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Blairsville Municipal Authority launches plant expansion

BLAIRSVILLE -- State, county and local officials gathered last Friday at the community's sewage treatment plant to ceremonially break ground for a $12.1 million effort to expand the plant and to reduce the amount of storm water that flows into it.

Addition of a third treatment unit at the Blairsville Municipal Authority (BMA) plant will increase its daily capacity from 900,000 gallons to 1.3 million gallons. That will provide for continued growth in the Rt. 22 corridor of neighboring Burrell Township, where the plant is located.

In addition, the project will correct 13 problem areas in Blairsville Borough by separating sanitary and storm sewer lines under a combined $16 million funding effort.

Work on the plant is expected to begin by January, with completion of the project by the end of 2010. That work will include development of six new reed beds for treatment of biosolids.

"This is a pretty good day for southern Indiana County," Michael LaMantia, BMA chairman, said during last week's ceremonies. He praised the various officials who supported the project, with "the vision that we have to do something for our sewage system for the next 50 years."

The Blairsville sewage treatment plant provides service for the southern portion of Burrell Township.

LaMantia added that project planners in the borough and township were able to "put parochial differences aside" to hammer out an agreement on the new plant expansion. Capacity and cost sharing were among issues that had been debated during extended negotiations among the parties.

"I hope it's a catalyst for us to continue to work together," LaMantia said of the agreement.

Dave Semsick -- chairman of the Burrell Township Sewer Authority, the entity that plans to make use of BMA's expanded plant capacity -- credited area politicians for "keeping us in the room together when we didn't want to be there." Like a marriage, he said the two authorities' shared plant arrangement has had its ups and downs, but, "We'll get through it."

Semsick said proceeding with the plant expansion now is a smart move that will provide needed treatment capacity for future development in the township, although "we weren't to a critical place where we absolutely had to do this." He said the project will benefit sewage customers in both the borough and township, helping to keep rates down.

Indiana County Commissioner and Blairsville resident Patty Evanko agreed, praising officials in the borough and township for reaching an agreement on the project that will serve the interests of all parties.

"You were concerned with the burden of cost on your constituents," she said. "You followed your hearts and struck a deal that your citizens could live with."

LaMantia credited state Sen. Don White, a Republican from Indiana, for playing a key role in keeping planning for the sewage project on track.

When negotiations between BMA and the township authority broke down in the spring of 2008, after about two years of planning, White indicated he would recommend that a $2.4 million state PennWorks grant earmarked for the local plant project through Indiana County be reassigned to another recipient, if progress wasn't made within 90 days.

"The senator set the goals," LaMantia said. "He drew a line in the sand when negotiations were stalled."

White noted the timing of the project ultimately was fortunate in regards to funding. He said an influx of federal stimulus dollars from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act allowed the state PENNVEST (Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority) board to provide an additional $10.4 million grant to BMA for the sewage project, as well as a $3 million loan at an interest rate of 1 percent.

Other project funding includes a $56,000 PennWorks loan to BMA.

White said the sewage improvements will enhance the area's growth potential combined with pending completion of widening improvements on Rt. 22.

"This gives us an opportunity," he said. "What we do with it now is in our hands. We have a true renaissance coming, and we need to be prepared."

State Rep. Dave Reed (R-Indiana) said the sewage plant expansion represents the second stage of a three-part economic development strategy for the area. The final stage, he said, will be realized with hoped-for residential and industrial development, restoring jobs to local communities.

On that count, he said, "I'm excited about our chances in the future."

Rod Ruddock, chairman of the county commissioners, noted the sewage plant expansion project will have an environmental impact as well as an economic impact. He said he felt inclusion of the sewer line separation work in the project scope enhanced that regional impact.

Contracts recently awarded for the project include: General/mechani-cal, Galway Bay Corporation, Mount Braddock, $4,979,000; HVAC, MARC-Service, Inc., Windber, $149,287; electri-cal, Bronder Technical Services, Inc., Butler, $1,397,000: sanitary and storm sewer separation, Independence Excavating, Inc., Independence, Ohio, $5,593,772.50.

Others who attended the groundbreaking ceremony included PENNVEST Executive Director Paul K. Marchetti, members of borough council and the township board of supervisors, project engineering consultants, and representatives of the county office of planning and development, the Indiana County Chamber of Commerce and Congressman Bill Shuster.

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