Mayor Doug Hammers and the Providence City Council have spent most of 2019 trying to figure out how to get the city out from under an agreed order from the Kentucky Division of Water (DOW) they inherited from the previous administration due to problems with the city's sewer system.

An Agreed Order refers to a written agreement submitted by the parties in a case resolving the issues between them. In this case, the order was filed in the Office of Administrative Hearings on April 11, 2018 and issued by the Department of Environmental Protection on April 18, 2018.

Much like a plea deal in criminal court, the agreed order lists specific violations the city is alleged to have committed between January 26, 2015 and July 20, 2017, and gives the city a penalty. In this case that penalty is to bring the sewer system into compliance with state mandates.

Also like a plea deal, the agreed order requires an admission of guilty on the city's behalf. By signing the order on March 14, 2018, former Mayor Eddie Gooch waived the city's right to protest or appeal the charges against them.

Getting the city's sewer system up to code is a costly process, which will require the replacement of 16,200 linear feet of lines, the replacement of 15,000 feet of clay pipes, the installation or replacement of 55 manholes and a major upgrade to the Providence Waste Water Treatment Plant (WWTP) on Cedar Street.

In all, the upgrades are estimated to cost more than $18 million, an amount that more than doubles the city's annual budget.

For several months, Hammers and the council have been working diligently with representatives of the Green River Area Development District (GRADD) to map the city's course forward.

Annually GRADD oversees the distribution of federal infrastructure grants in a seven county region that includes Daviess, Hancock, Henderson, McLean, Ohio, Union and Webster counties.

Each winter a regional water board ranks proposed projects throughout the GRADD for the following year on priority list. Placement on that list does not guarantee funding, but it does increase the chances of a project getting funded.

For the first time in many years, the water board's rankings reflected favorably on Providence, with three projects being placed in the top 18 of the 46 project sewer ranking list for a total of $12.2 million.

Two of those, a $9,114,000 project to replace 16,200 linear feet of line and 55 manholes, and a $1,959,000 project to expand the WWTP were third and fourth on the list.

Even with the rankings in place, the city still has several hoops to jump through just to become eligible for those grant funds. At the top of that list is getting the city's annual budgetary audit up-to-date. Hammers says that should be accomplished no later than March of 2020.

If things come together and the city does acquire funding for its projects, residents can expect to see water and sewer rate increases within the coming year.

Hammers told council members last week that HMB, the company engineering the sewer projects, estimates that rate increase will be around $7.30 per month for the average household.

"Right now that is the projection, its not chiseled in stone," Hammers said. "I've found that in things like this, they give you numbers, then they often come back with different numbers."

In addition to the sewer projects, the city of Providence also has an additional $6.9 million in water projects ranked on GRADD's water projects list.

Taking the third spot on that list is a $766,000 project to replace 4,400 linear feet of 12-inch water main, replacing 1,700 linear feet of two and three inch lines with six-inch lines, replacing another 1,100 feet of two-inch mains with six inch mains and the elimination of several dead-end lines around the city.

Reach MATT HUGHES at 270-667-2068 or matt@journalenterprise.com.