Fort Smith Residents Outraged Over Sewage Bill Increase
FORT SMITH (KFSM) – It was a heated town hall meeting in Fort Smith Tuesday (Feb. 3) night as sewer rates are expected to triple over the next 12 years to fund repairs to the sewage system.
Residents expressed their outrage after the City Board of Directors meeting.
“You will rob us of our money by utility extortion,” one resident said before the board.
The sewer rate increase would cover the costs needed to bring the city into compliance with the federal Clean Water Act after the Environmental Protection Agency alleged Fort Smith broke several aspects of the law. Environmental officials said the city experiences sewage overflow during episodes of heavy rainfall because of the decades-old sanitation system.
The City Board of Directors came to an agreement with the EPA and the U.S. Department of Justice to spend $200 million over the next 12 years to repair its sewage system.
“We don’t have much of a choice. This was something we had to make a decision on,” Fort Smith City Director Keith Lau said. “We entered in a consent decree and a certain program for capital improvements and for maintenance of our sewer lines.”
Lau said sewage bills will spike, but it’s not clear yet if water rates will go up too.
“The sewer portion of the bill is going to go up but not necessarily the water part, so we are researching that right now,” Lau said. “We’ve got an engineering firm that’s doing an analysis for us so that hasn’t been set yet as far as the total increase.”
City directors said they’re expecting the study on how much the rates will actually go up to be completed soon.