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Repairs could cause sewer rates to soar in Summit Hill

Published September 20. 2011 05:01PM

There may be a temporary solution to sewage backing into basements in some Summit Hill homes, but permanent solutions will cost $3-to-$10 million.

That's what residents were told who attended a special meeting of Summit Hill Borough Council last night.

The repairs could mean an eventual increase of $640 per year in annual sewage rates.

Anything less than the major repairs will amount to the equivalent "of a Band-Aid for a cancer patient," said borough engineer Ronald Tirpak.

Nearly two dozen residents attended the two-hour session. Only four of the seven council members were present. Attending were Michael Kokinda, who was in charge of the meeting; Michael Alabovitz; Bill Chapman and Harry Miller. Also at the meeting was Billy Jones of the Sewer Authority.

Council members admitted that the costly repairs won't happen any time soon, but that other events can occur which will affect many borough residents.

To stop the backup of flooding into basements in the 100 block of White Street, only one pump instead of two will be turned on at the Amidon Street pumping station, which is at Pine and Amidon Street. Admittedly, this may cause the pumping station to overflow, but when two pumps are turned on, it appears the White Street problem occurs.

Tirpak also recommended that letters be sent to all residents connected to the sewerage system to seal basement drains flowing into the system, remove sump pumps emptying into the system, and shut off roof drains going into the system. He said water infiltration is a major problem and only these corrective measures will reduce that water content.

Tirpak is urging the council to follow-up that letter with home visits to assure compliance has occurred. In cases where homeowners don't allow the borough access, he said court orders can be obtained to make the inspections.

He also urges the council to purchase a camera to inspect the system. A good camera, he said, costs $60,000 to $80,000.

"When we're done with it, it's something that can be put back on the market and sold," he said.

To show how much water infiltration is happening with the sewerage system, he said the Amidon Street pumping station has normal low flows of 40,000 gallons of sewage per day. On Sept.7, there were 749,600 gallons of sewage pumped, plus the station overflowed.

He said although records show that the flow to the pump station increased 20-times the usual amount, with the overflow, it could mean there was an increase of 30 or 40 times the normal amount.

"We have a problem," he told the audience.

Some residents were angry that their problems on White Street began following the installation of an eight-inch pipe on Pine Street. Before that, a six-inch pipe existed here.

"It's too coincidental that 10 to 12 homes are suddenly getting water," said one resident.

The residents asked that a six-inch pipe be re-installed, but this proposal was dismissed.

Tirpak doesn't feel that pipe is the problem.

"We have a borough-wide problem," he said.

One unidentified audience member fired back at Tirpak that it was that pipe, in fact, that did "cause the problem."

Two people said they had nearly three feet of sewage in their basements from back-ups after the early September rain. One said it's the third time in about a year serious sewage back-ups had occurred.

A woman estimates she sustained a $16,000 loss and she is still worried about mold forming in the walls which could make her children ill.

"Do you know how many of my children's' toys I had to throw away?" she asked. "That is our living area. I had to throw furniture away."

Councilman Miller seemed pessimistic of a major sewerage system overhaul.

"You have to understand, the borough has limited funds," he said.

Tirpak responded, "Until we get the water out of the system, there's no good solution."

He added that even before a new system is constructed, a study must be done to determine the amount of infiltration so that the proper-size system can be built.

He said if the water filtration would be permitted to continue, another $50 million would have to be spent to expand the sewage treatment plant, which treats sewage from Summit Hill, Lansford, and Coaldale.

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