Tamaqua's Dilemma – Wildcats! We read about them. It's a "hot topic" in Tamaqua neighborhoods. Who are they and how did they occur?
The descriptive term wildcat (illegal sewage discharge) became known to us in the Alfred Benesch Engineering report submitted to the Tamaqua Borough on May 9, 2011, after the firm was contracted to inspect sewage discharges into the Wabash and Panther Creeks within the Borough of Tamaqua. The inspection revealed 56 active or once active "wildcat" sewer connections on residential, commercial and public properties.
Why and how did this develop into a situation pitting the wildcat property owners against Tamaqua Council and the Tamaqua Authority? The current council and authority are not the cause of the wildcat owners' plight, but are regulated by the sewer ordinance in place since the mid-1970s when the waste water treatment plant was built, along with other improvements to the borough sewer system.
The authority is a non-operating entity with a solicitor and consulting engineers (Gannet Fleming), while council, with its own solicitor and consulting engineers, is the owner/operational manager of the Tamaqua Waste Water Plant and system.
The authority, known at the time as the Tamaqua Borough Sewer Authority, designed the plant, bid the construction contract and sought funding through the sale of sewer revenue bonds and grants through the Commonwealth. A major stipulation of the funding was that 100 percent of improved properties within the borough would have public sewer service.
The authority's consulting engineer reported that all improved properties were indeed connected at the end of the project, making for 100 percent compliance. Was this misinformation or an intentional lie? Council looked at the report and agreed the borough had met the requirements for the funding. Council voted to accept the responsibility and guaranteed payment of the bond interest, call of the bonds. A higher sewer rate was established by council to cover the payments and for general operating expenses for the total sewage system. The fees were charged to 3300 plus properties, including the 56 illegal sewer systems (1.7 percent).
The disgruntled debate about the responsibility to right this wrong could go on and on. The affected property owners are of various age and income levels – senior citizens on a fixed income with limited savings; moderate income families (some unemployed) with no savings, scratching to make ends meet in this difficult economy. Mentally, this can create anxiety and frustration.
Why did wildcat property owners believe they had public sewage service? They paid sewer fees to the borough and many possibly did not know they weren't connected. Take into consideration the many occasions they had been told or it was insinuated they were on the public system.
Look at the list of possibilities of those who may be subrogate in a class-action lawsuit for receiving fees but not providing service: Tamaqua Borough; prior property owners for a false property disclosure statement; realtors for false listing agreements and agreements of sale; lawyers/abstract companies for false settlement sheets; authority consulting engineers who filed the initial total compliance reports.
Council could correct this dilemma by changing/replacing the sewer ordinance; forgiveness of future sewer fees plus 50 percent cash value of the property owner's expense for a legal sewer line; Council could apply for a short-term loan to reimburse fees with a cash settlement to offset the expense of connecting to the sewer line; Borough employees or contractors could install the lines for the wildcat property owners.
Council members should put themselves in the wildcat status and I am sure you could arrive at a justifiable solution, in a cooperative manner, to compensate the wildcat property owners. If you want to know the opinion of the Tamaqua voters – "put it on the ballot."
I and my family are facing the same wildcat issue and are not pleased with the mandate.