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Editorial: Landis faces water woes

Landis voters wanted to hold down water rates and government debt when they defeated an $11 million water and sewer bond in 2004, but the stay was only temporary. With the threat of a $25,000-a-day state fine hanging over its head, the Landis Board of Aldermen is proposing another bond issue to finance improvements the town may be forced to make.

In the end, taxpayers may wish they’d OK’d the 2004 bond issue.

Landis has changed some aspects of its water system since 2004. The town gave up on the idea of replacing its 1954 water plant, which was going to cost more than $5 million by itself. Instead, Landis residents pay for water to be piped in from Kannapolis and Salisbury — through cast iron pipes as dated as the water plant but not nearly as expendable. The old pipes reportedly are contributing to poor water quality, forcing the town to propose a $6 million to $7 million bond issue to fix the problem. That’s on top of about $3 million the town already owes for water-sewer improvements.

At issue is trihalomethane, or THM, a cancer-causing agent that forms when natural organic matter in drinking water reacts with the chlorine used to treat it. The THM level in water coming through Landis pipes exceeds state limits, but town officials say it poses no immediate risk to water customers. One wonders what the parameters of “immediate” are, though.

Some of this might have been avoided if the town board hadn’t botched the 2004 bond issue by letting it get tangled up in the controversial Cannon Farm Road annexation proposal. People in the annexation area urged citizens to vote against the bond issue, and both the bond issue and the annexation fell by the wayside. What emerged from that year’s battles is a costly water line to nowhere — the town still owes $1.8 million on it — intended to connect a development proposed by Atlantic American Properties four years ago that has yet to take shape.

Now Mayor Mike Mahaley says the town must change the way it does business and not spend money on new developments until the project is under way. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. But one doesn’t have to be a visionary to wait and count your chicks after they’ve hatched — or at least broken ground.

At any rate, replacing and repairing pipes is bound to cost much more in 2007 than it would have in 2004, and repairs and debts could exceed $12 million. In the meantime, the THM continues to flow.

State environmental officials and the Local Government Commission are scrutinizing Landis operations, which makes town officials nervous. But Landis residents should thank goodness that the state has such agencies to safeguard public health and local government finances. They’ll need all the help they can get.

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