West Penn Township sewage committee member Ted Bogosh explained to the Walker Township board of supervisors at last evening's monthly meeting in the municipal building that dye testing has confirmed the existence of wildcat sewers and that the decade-long ongoing Act 537 sewer project is back on a tentative schedule.

With the plan supposed to be finished by the end of December 2012 before what supervisors hoped to be the start of the implementation process, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) had called for further investigation into the wildcat sewers, which are unpermitted sewer lines that discharge untreated sewage.

The results of the investigation, according to West Penn Township Engineer Ronald B. Madison, PE, are as follows: in South Tamaqua, 10 to 15 homes were found to be connected to wildcat sewer lines; in Clamtown, four suspected homes were tested, but are not yet confirmed; and in Andreas, five to 10 homes were found to be connected into wildcats.

The problem of investigating these wildcats was identifying exactly which homes are tied into them. DEP's main concern was how many homes are on these systems and how far the pipes run. Some of the pipelines, according to Bogosh, are nearly a hundred meters long, and others are quite short.

"The net result from the whole needs assessment, including the wildcat sewer investigation, is that the original needs assessment done in 2003 may have been overstated and our current focus will be to deal with individual solutions and/or cluster solutions," Madison said at West Penn's supervisors meeting Monday evening. "…The overall program will provide substantial savings to both the townships and individual property owners."

The old plan would have included installing a costly public sewage system; whereas, the new one, as Madison said, has indicated there are fewer problems than previously thought and that individual property owners can fix their own issues by installing on-lot sewage systems.

In December 2011, DEP had decided that in addition to the age of the survey the original needs assessment might have also been somewhat biased by the idea of high growth being seen at that point before the housing bubble popped, according to Madison.

Initially, not only was Ludgate Engineering, which was running the project prior to Rettew, in charge of conducting the survey to assess the sewage problems, but it was the same company that was supposed to be fixing them. Its estimation of the project was $11.5 million, and it would have left the homeowners who were involved in this option with $104-a-month sewer bill until the debt was fully paid.

With only questionable, outdated survey results to work from and growing fiscal worries among the townships' supervisors, a third-party sub consultant Sewage Enforcement Officer Scott C. Bieber of Lehigh Soils and Wetlands had been hired to redo the survey and to investigate the wildcat sewers.

The cost to implement the project laid out by the new plan is still unknown, though. Neither townships' board of supervisors, nor the sewage committee has reviewed the new plan, Bogosh said. Madison will be at Walker's next board of supervisors meeting on Thursday, May 2 at 7:30 p.m. to present a synopsis of the plan.

In a joint agreement based on the numbers of homes with sewer issues in each township, West Penn is responsible for 82 percent of the cost, and Walker is responsible for the other 18 percent. Because the suspected wildcat sewers are only in West Penn, Walker is not required to share the costs of the investigation.

The combined estimated cost for West Penn and Walker since the planning phase of Act 537 began in 2003 up this point has been $356,107, according to Madison, which includes the cost of having the sub consultant redo the outdated needs assessment survey where Bieber revisited 230 of 231 homes suspected to have septic issues. The townships might be eligible for reimbursement from the state for the planning portion of the project, but not the actual implementation of it.

In a letter sent to both townships on March 28, the plan's tentative schedule is outlined as follows: a joint meeting with both townships to review the completed draft of the plan is scheduled for Monday, May 20; a public hearing is scheduled on Monday, June 24 after the 30-day public review period ends; then on Wednesday, June 26 a joint meeting is scheduled to adopt final plan, which will be submitted that coming Friday, the deadline for submitting the adopted plan to DEP.