Ten years ago, saving millions of dollars while developing an Act 537 sewage facilities plan covering two townships may have seemed like a real pipe dream.

But according to an Act 537 draft plan discussed at a public hearing for West Penn and Walker township citizens Monday, the scope and cost for the project has flowed from high to low.

Supervisors from both boards will meet at 7 p.m. Wednesday, at the West Penn Township municipal building, to either adopt or ask for additional revisions of the draft plan.

Ronald Madison is a professional engineer for Rettew, the consultant firm for the project. Madison gave background on the development of the Act 537 plan, which began in 2003:

2003-2007 - The previous consultant, Ludgate Engineering, Reading, developed a draft plan, accepted by both townships and submitted to DEP. The cost estimate for the plan was $17.5 million.

DEP returned the plans as "administratively incomplete" and requested additional work, such as well testing and soils investigation.

2007-2011 - Rettew completed the additional work and amended the draft plan. The new draft plan included a feasibility study for community on-lot sewage disposal systems, and also looked at alternative ideas for four areas, South Tamaqua, Clamtown/Reynolds, Andreas and Snyders. The cost estimate for that plan was $11.5 million.

But, Madison said, that alternative was not affordable for the approximately 300 property owners who would be connected to the systems.

"Perhaps the original Needs Assessment study overstated the need," Madison summarized. "We did a new Needs Assessment study, focusing on the existing systems."

The study found evidence of "wildcat" systems in South Tamaqua and Andreas, and also confirmed malfunctions in systems. The number of problems, 53 systems, was lower than expected, he said.

It was noted that of those 53 that were either malfunctioning or wildcat systems, 34 could resolve the issues on their own because they had sufficient property. That left 19 systems where the existing sewage system was insufficient.

Armed with that knowledge, in May 2013 Madison/Rettew developed a new draft for an Act 537 Plan which focuses on properties which have specific needs. The current plan is drastically reduced in scope and so is the overall price tag, approximately $1 million.

According to the revamped plan, for the properties with specific needs, the project would implement small community system clusters. There would be a $1,500 tap-in fee for individual homes, with an annual cost of $890 per year/$75 per month.

In addition, property owners not part of the new systems would have to comply with an On-lot Sewage Management Ordinance, which would require them to have their systems inspected initially, and then pumped every five years.

Madison said there were a variety of grants and loan options to help defray the cost and assist those homeowners.

Only 11 citizens attended the public hearing, and some voiced concerns about the proposed ordinance regarding the On-Lot Sewage Management Program. Ted Bogash, chairman of the Sewer Committee, said that he's heard concerns from citizens about the proposed ordinance.

"I hear concerns about the interval, because some people get their systems pumped every 25 or 30 years," Bogash said. "They are asking if they can't just 'stick' their system (check the level of sediment and liquids) to see if it needs to be pumped."

Also, Bogash said, homeowners who are going to have to hook up to the new cluster system are weighing the costs of the initial hookup and monthly fees versus constructing their own new, private system.

Delroy Haas, New Ringgold, one of four citizens who spoke in opposition to the proposed On-lot Sewage Management Program ordinance, said it was wrong to make one rule for systems that could be vastly different.

"I take exception to the pumping on a specific time frame," Haas said. "You have new systems and old systems, large and small, big families and small families - that's my biggest concern."