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Repairs to PV sewage system could take decades

Published January 18. 2019 11:56AM

The municipal sewage system that serves three Panther Valley towns needs to be updated as soon as possible, says the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

But despite the state’s impatience, improvements could still take decades to implement, according to a report during a joint meeting of the three municipalities Thursday night.

The sewage treatment plant is over 50 years old and operating in excess of its capacity. The sewer lines in the three towns are about 100 years old.

The meeting, held in the Hilltop Community Center in Summit Hill, was called by the Coaldale-Lansford-Summit Hill Joint Sewer Authority after officials of the agency met with DEP representatives in December.

They said DEP has said that if the boroughs don’t work together on correcting deficiencies in the treatment plant and collector systems, it will issue a consent order.

Marc Collevechio, authority chairman, said a moratorium on new sewer connections in the three boroughs was imposed in 1992 because of the system’s inadequacies, and won’t be lifted anytime soon.

It could last as long as 20 years or more.

Engineer Mike Tirpak of Carbon Engineering of Summit Hill said DEP began enforcing overflows at the sewage treatment plant, located in Coaldale, in 1992, because of the Clean Water Act. The overflows were impacting the Panther Creek, which runs near the treatment plant.

Also in 1992, the municipalities were to create a study plan and gradually correct the problems, including excessive stormwater going into the plant.

Some corrective action was taken but not enough to satisfy DEP, Tirpak said.

He said DEP has ordered an Act 537 Sewage Facilities Plan be done, which not only outlines solutions for the ongoing issues, but includes a timeline for implementation.

The Act 537 Plan would encompass areas in the three towns where central sewage already exists, as well as other areas, such as the White Bear section of Summit Hill, which has on-lot systems.

David Wargo, Summit Hill councilman, asked for timetable specifics for work which would lift the moratorium on connections.

While no exact time frame is known, Tirpak said, “It is probably closer to decades than years.

He said the first work involved in an Act 537 Plan would be to do a flow study to determine how much rain water is getting into the sewage system. The flow study could take two to three years.

Completion of the Act 537 Sewage Facilities Plan could take another three to seven years.

The design phase of treatment plant improvements and sewage system work could take two years. It would be several more years before the construction could actually begin.

Wargo said he is concerned how the moratorium on new connections will affect potential growth of the municipalities.

“It’s going to become impossible for any of our towns to survive,” he said. “If the DEP doesn’t give at all in the next 20 years, they’re going to destroy these communities.”

Tirpak said, “The possibility of not being able to develop the communities for another 20 years is a very valid point.”

“Starting now, we must figure out how to satisfy the DEP,” Wargo said.

Tirpak said there are about 150,000 to 160,000 linear feet of sewer lines in the three towns and approximately 1,000 manholes.

He said to do the flow study, which would show the amount of stormwater infiltration, all the manholes must be made accessible. That means if any are covered by blacktop or any other materials, they must be opened.

He said the flow study also will address roof drains and floor drains in residences and businesses which drain into the sanitary sewage system. He said such drains are an issue primarily in Summit Hill and Coaldale.

Tirpak said to address the drain problems, smoke will be blown into manholes. The smoke would emit through the floor and roof drains where improper connections exist.

To complete the project, Tirpak said, “We need cooperation from the community.”

Tirpak said much of the flow study will be done by an outside firm to be hired by the joint authority.

Attending the meeting were Lansford Borough Council members Jared Soto, Bob Silver and Marie Ondrus; Summit Hill Borough council members Sara Ruch, Debra Ranck, Wargo, William O’Gurek, Mike Kokinda and Karen Ruzicka; members of the joint Sewer Authority, members of Summit Hill Water Authority, and members of the Lansford-Coaldale Joint Water Authority. No member of Coaldale Borough Council were present, but the borough’s engineer attended to represent them.

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