Sympathies go out to residents of Baltimore's central city communities who will spend the next year or so with their streets torn up to install a new sewer line.
As The Sun's John Fritze reported Sunday, neighbors from Hampden to East Baltimore worry that the project will be noisy, disruptive, damaging to their property and so disturbing to subterranean life that rats will be scurrying through their yards. Some are skeptical of the project's value, and of city promises to finish it as swiftly as possible.
Of course everything that can go wrong with a public works project will go wrong. It'll be a mess. But while the contractors will doubtless require steady monitoring, this is also an opportunity to appreciate your tax dollars at work.
The new 54-inch pipe to be installed in a trench that will run 10 feet wide and 4 miles long is a relatively small but crucial element of upgrading the city's ancient plumbing so that it stops dumping raw sewage into the Jones Falls watershed and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay. This $40 million project is an early phase of plumbing overhaul for which Baltimore has pledged to spend $900 million, much of it coming from utility customers. Baltimore County will undertake an additional $800 million in similar upgrades and repairs to water and sewer lines over the next decade or so.
Such work is common these days in older communities, where sewer systems are not only in disrepair but inadequately designed to meet current water quality standards. Typically, as in Baltimore's case, local officials didn't initiate the task but had it forced upon them by federal regulators.
This is no bid for environmental utopia - simply installation of replacement parts for a century-old network of pipes patched up so many times fixes no longer hold. The sewer line overhaul is separate from upgrades to Maryland's 66 sewage treatment plants to be financed through the state's new so-called flush tax.
It's not incidental, though, that raw or poorly treated sewage from residential areas is the major and most easily remedied source of pollution choking the bay in huge dead zones.
So when work begins on that trench over the next few months, local residents should view the resulting inconvenience as part of their contribution to the physical and economic vitality of Maryland. If they keep a sharp eye on its progress, so much the better.