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Several Walker Township residents voice concerns over sewage facilities soil testing

Published May 06. 2011 05:00PM

The process of updating the Act 537 sewage facilities plan for West Penn and Walker townships has hit a few snags in Walker Township. Several residents of the Reynolds area of the township appeared at last night's township meeting to voice concerns over soil testing that is to be conducted on private property. Ten sites were designated as testing sites between the two townships and nine of the sites have had the testing completed. However, the owners of the 10th. property that was selected for testing, members of the Comisac family, have not allowed the testing to proceed and the township is in the process of pursuing access to the property through eminent domain. Hoping to speed up the process and meet the deadlines set by DEP, the township and the engineering companies involved, Rettew for West Penn Township and Alfred Benesch for Walker Township, have proposed testing on an alternate site.

However, the owner of the proposed alternate site, Willi Oertner, showed up at the meeting and indicated that he has questions about the process and does not plan to allow the testing on his property either. Andy Smarr, a representative from the Comisac family, and Bill Murphy, another neighbor in the area, also raised questions about the project.

Ronald Madison, the engineer from Rettew who has coordinated the project for West Penn Township, detailed the history of the project and explained that every alternative for sewage disposal must be included in the plans that are submitted to DEP. The project was initially started in 2003, under the guidance of another engineering firm, and required the two townships to work together to provide an update to their sewage facility plan. "This was the result of local sewage enforcement officers dealing with a lot of septic failures in those areas and there not being a suitable enough area of land for replacement in those areas," said Madison.

Madison said that an initial plan was submitted in 2007, however, it was returned by DEP as being "administratively incomplete." Madison said that the deficiency in the initial report was that suggested a single package treatment plan as the only option and to be complete the report needs to include an analysis of every option for treatment, including on-lot systems. The report needs to determine if those options are feasible and if they are deemed feasible, then a cost analysis will be done to determine the overall feasibility of the project. Once that is completed and a plan that meets both feasibility and cost analysis criteria can be determined, the townships would have ten years to implement the plan. Madison said that once financing options are reviewed, no plan may meet the criteria and the townships may need to wait until a more financially feasible option would become available to implement the plan.

Madison explained that other options, including pumping the sewage to the Tamaqua treatment plant are also being included in the study; however, at this time, he preferred not to draw any conclusions about

Supervisor Bill McMullen also raised questions about bills that have been presented to the township related to the testing and legal fees related to the process. According to the chairman of the board Craig Wagner, the township initially paid approximately $9500 to help with the initial study. When the project began moving forward again last year, they were under the impression that it was going to cost the township $19,500 more; however, they have received on bill in the amount of $540 from their engineers and additional bills from their solicitor Michael Greek related to the Act 537 project. These two bills are beyond the $19,500. The supervisors opted not to pay those bills until the matter can be investigated further. "DEP is the one mandating everything," said Wagner. "It's something that's needed, however, it all goes to 'I don't want it in my backyard.' Sometimes, the solution isn't going to sit well with everyone."

In other matters, the supervisors approved an estimate from Ehrlich for vegetation treatment in the amount of $635. Ehrlich recommended that the treatment occur before June 30th in order to contain the weed growth.

Supervisors also held two executive sessions to discuss personnel and litigation matters.

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