A hearing took place on Thursday evening at the Tamaqua Middle School auditorium for the public to voice their comments about an $11.5 million project to install sewage facilities in 306 homes in Walker and West Penn Township, and only five people had anything to say about it.
To comply with Act 537, part of the Clean Streams Law created to regulate sewage and other pollutants that go into the waters of Pennsylvania, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is requiring something be done about the failing waste systems secreting raw sewage in the waterways of Andreas, Clamtown, Reynolds, Snyders and South Tamaqua.
Because the municipalities currently have no public facilities, residents don't pay sewage fees. This will change. To cover the debt left after the project's installation, residents will be required to pay approximately $104 a month for the next 40 years, not to mention the estimated $1,500 initial setup cost and the maintenance fees to have the system pumped out every three years.
Despite public announcements, no one seemed to review the documents that have been available both online and at the municipalities' offices for the last 30 days. Although the number of residences included in the plan is small, it affects both townships because the municipalities are responsible for funding the project. The financial burden will, however, trickle down onto the 306 residencies.
According to West Penn Township Engineer and Walker Township's advisor on Act 537 Ronald B. Madison, PE, DEP believes, although the current plan is the most cost effective, $104 a month is not affordable and that other funding options should be sought. DEP also feels, he added, there may be alternative systems available on an individual basis rather than the public option. It urges the two townships to reevaluate the study of needs, which is now eight years old, to determine the state of each home's septic system.
If the plan becomes approved as it stands, West Penn Township will be responsible for an estimate of $9.5 million of the total cost. More than 50 of the 306 homes are located in Walker, brings their township's share of the cost to 18 or 19 percent.
"I find it highly irresponsible for [Walker supervisors] to not be here tonight," West Penn Supervisor Jim Akins said. "It's a costly process for their community. Considering the price being proposed, I'm surprised at the lack of turnout, especially based on a lot of the comments of people who have been associating in and out of township meetings, both township planning commissions."
"I don't think this plan is very feesable for West Pen Township and their residents," former West Penn Township secretary Susan Gibiser said. "It's very costly, and for 306 homes that seem to be having some septic problems, $11 million, that's a lot of money…There has to be different alternatives. It's going to affect a lot of people. There's a lot of low-income housing."
Because income data reveals earnings to be low enough in the study areas, Madison believes the project can qualify for a 45 percent grant. DEP showed concern, however, that grant funding agencies will likely become subject to federal budget cuts, which means funding for the project may not be available when the project goes underway. In addition to grant funding, Madison said, another option is to get a low interest, 40-year loan. Where exactly the financing will come from, however, is unknown.
West Penn resident Robert Sverchek said he didn't see how this plan is the most cost effective.
"I don't think this, well, as it shows," crowd member Delroy Haas said, "that it's going to fly. Out of those 306 dwellings, if half of those are failing, the rest of them are working, which means $11.5 million for 150 homes is really out of line."
If this plan becomes officially adopted, it would be the end of 2015 by the time the project is in motion. It is a long process involving preliminary design, permitting, conducting income surveys, seeking funds, etc., but in the end, it is going to cost people millions of dollars.
Sewer Committee Chairman Ted Bogosh said, "We've made numerous requests in writing…to reevaluate what the problems are." Later he said during an interview that, "We either have extreme confidence in the sewer committee, or there's a whole bunch of apathy out there. Hopefully, [the public has] confidence in the sewer committee that we're asking all the right questions for [it]. I was just expecting more personnel to show up."
Whether because it was a public comment period where no questions would get answers, or because they might not have known, or because they just didn't care, only five people put their comments on record. This will go little ways to making the changes unanimously felt by attendees.