ANDREW LEIBENGUTH/TIMES NEWS The Wabash Creek is exposed behind the Tamaqua Library for about 60 feet.
Forty Tamaqua property owners are being given 60-day notices to stop discharging wastewater directly to the Wabash Creek culvert and to connect to Tamaqua's municipal sewer system. The work is to be done at property owners' expense.
The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued an order to the borough last December to investigate and remove all illegal sewage discharges to the creek, which runs under downtown Tamaqua from South Lehigh Street to Rowe Street and then to South Railroad Street.
The deadline to comply with this order is Aug. 31.
The borough hired Alfred Benesch Company and A One Service, Shenandoah, to investigate both the Wabash Creek and Panther Creek, which runs through eastern portions of Tamaqua, for the sources of any possible illegal sewage discharge, aka wildcats. Inspections of the creeks were performed between March 1 and March 31. Initially, 56 connections were found to have active sanitary connections to the Wabash Creek culvert, with dry residue indicating recent sanitary connections.
Investigators used special equipment and cameras. The notice, given to affected property owners about a month ago, states, "In accordance with the DEP order and Borough Ordinance No. 304, you are hereby notified to stop discharging sewage to the Wabash Creek and connect your property to the municipal sewer system within 60 days of your receipt of this notice."
Receiving the notice were homes and business owners on South Lehigh Street, West Broad Street, Spruce Street, Rowe Street and South Railroad Street. The notice also states that if a property owner fails to correct the illegal sewer discharge within 60 days of receiving the notice, the matter will be referred to the code enforcement officer and borough solicitor for legal action.
Some property owners are upset with the short notice and unexpected financial burden this has placed on them. Ann Brose, 249 West Broad St., said that it will cost approximately $7,000 to connect to the sewer system.
"I have to pay to dig into the second lane of SR209 to hook up to the sewer. I never knew my sewage wasn't connected to the borough's system," adding, "I want to do what's right, but not 30 years after I purchased my house."
Brose, who pointed out that she doesn't qualify for low interest loans, added, "I've paid the borough $9,200 over 30 years for sewer and now I have to pay to connect to a sewer system I thought I was already connected to." Brose and other affected property owners are expected to attend tonight's borough council meeting to bring up their concerns.
A summary of required steps was also given with the notice. The summary lists detailed instructions concerning steps required to connect to the borough's sanitary sewer system, as well as a Building Sewer Permit Application. Current sewer customers do not have to pay the borough's $2,000 first-time sewer connection charge.
Low and moderate income property owners may qualify for financial assistance for construction of their sewer connection. Kevin Steigerwalt, Tamaqua borough manager, stated that property owners can save on construction expenses by consolidating contract work with other affected property owners.
Assistance may be available through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Schuylkill Community Action and the Tamaqua Borough's Community Development Department. Affected residents are encouraged to contact Steigerwalt or Rob Jones, Tamaqua public works director, at (570) 668-3444 or (570) 668-0300 with any questions or concerns.