Vandergrift officials unhappy with $8.2M loan for sewer project
Faced with the cost of a major sewer project, Vandergrift officials are balking on accepting $11 million in aid from the state.
The money is for the second phase of the sewer-separation project that would satisfy a state and federal government mandate.
Council President Brian Carricato said he and some other officials were taken aback because 75 percent of the aid, $8.2 million, is in the form of a low-interest loan. The rest, $2.68 million, is a grant that the borough does not have to repay. They question if residents can afford to accept the package.
“We're happy and we're disappointed in a way. We were hoping for a 50/50 split,” Carricato said. “$8.2 million is a lot of money to take out as a loan.”
But, state Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Pittsburgh, says it's a cost that the borough and its residents will have to bear.
“These are obligations we can no longer ignore,” Ferlo said. “The council can't just keep kicking the can down the street. At some point, they're going to be facing significant fines from the federal government.”
The Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment (Penn-VEST) board recommended the loan/grant package to complete the second phase of Vandergrift's four-phase effort to separate its sanitary and storm sewers. That is being done to reduce sewage flow to the Kiski Valley Water Pollution Control Authority treatment plant and avoid overflows of raw sewage into the Kiski River.
Work on the project's first phase started in April 2012 and is nearly complete. A $4.2 million state grant paid for that.
The second phase is the largest, covering about half the town, between 1,100 and 1,200 buildings.
The $11 million was included in $91 million awarded for 22 projects in 20 counties. It consists of $84 million in low-interest loans and $7 million in grants. Vandergrift was the only Alle-Kiski Valley community to receive funding.
Council has not decided if it will accept the money.
Carricato estimates accepting the loan will more than double the quarterly sewage bill for residents, from $30 to about $65, to repay the loan over 30 years.
“To me, that's too much. It's not affordable,” Carricato said. “It's entirely too much to ask from residents.”
Carricato said the loan and the grant are likely linked — if council rejects the loan it will also lose the grant. If that happens, Carricato said, the borough's only option would be to not do the second phase of the project.
Ferlo, who announced the funding to Vandergrift, said rejecting the loan would be a bad decision.
The longer Vandergrift delays, the more the work will cost, Ferlo said.
“They're going to pay now or they're going to pay more later. They've ignored the issue for a long time,” he said. “If they didn't want to proceed why did they apply for the grant and the loan? It's not an issue they can run from and ignore any longer.”
Carricato said council will discuss the loan when it meets at 7 p.m. May 13. That meeting date is a week later than usual, and was rescheduled because of council member availability.
Brian C. Rittmeyer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4701 or firstname.lastname@example.org.