Columbia Explores Options to Replace Aging Pipes

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COLUMBIA - The city's storm water infrastructure causes big safety concerns as the pipes begin to corrode and fail.

Columbia's storm water infrastructure was installed in the 1960s, and has a lifetime of about 40 years. Public Works engineer Erin Keys said the pipes need to be replaced.

"A lot of metal pipes were put in in those days and the life expectancy of a metal pipe in those times was probably about 30 to 40 years. Now, of course, 40 years later, we're past that life expectancy of those metal pipes," Keys said.

The pipes and culverts begin to cave in when they rust and corrode. Caving in causes the road above the pipe to lose support, and sinkholes form. 

One crew of five people is responsible to fixing and replacing all the city's pipes and culverts. Keys said with so few employees and so many problems, they are playing catch-up. 

"We have over a million feet of storm water pipes throughout the city and so, right now, we just have a single crew and that only really allows us to do the emergencies--what's failing right this second. We've got more areas we need to address and we're basically getting the same amount of money that we were 20 years ago. That money doesn't go as far today," Keys said. 

Columbia Public Works wants to raise an additional $3 million annually to help fund all of the pipe replacements. 

The public works storm water department proposed three options for getting the funding:


  • 1/8 cent sales tax increase 
  • Utility rate increase from $1.35 to $8.60 
  •  Property tax increase of $.18 per $100 assessed value


The city could also consider some combination of the three approaches. These options could appear on the August or November ballots.

Columbia residents had mixed reactions when asked about the proposals. 

"I'm not in favor of any increase, obviously, but they have to do what they have to do to keep the city running," Columbia resident Andrew Ducharme said. 

"I'd be more in favor of a sales tax than a utility tax. I think a sales tax would be a better way to get the money.If they need to raise money to fix the pipes for the city I think raising taxes to get that money is a good idea, rather than taking money from somewhere else, where it needs to be," Columbia resident Ben Turner said.