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Busy field in East Vandergrift race

| Saturday, May 11, 2013, 1:21 a.m.

East Vandergrift's race for four open council seats pits two challengers against four incumbents for the Democratic ticket in the May 21 primary election.

Only one candidate, Dion J. Urban, is on the Republican ballot.

Councilwoman Lucille Yakulis, a Democrat who is running for re-election, said she welcomes the larger field of candidates.

“It's interesting that more people are running this time,” she said. “It is very encouraging.”

The challengers are bucking the current council as the town faces an estimated $3.1 million sewage separation project.

Voters will decide who will shepherd what will be the borough's most costly public project in recent memory.

Because residents don't know how much of the project will be covered by state grants or a low-interest loan, they don't know how much their sewage bills will increase to pay for the project.

Federal and state regulations have forced East Vandergrift, along with a slew of other Alle-Kiski Valley communities, to replace their combined stormwater and sanitary sewer lines because of pollution issues.

East Vandergrift is still waiting for people to sign rights of way, which now stands at about 39 parcels out of a little more than 70 total parcels, according to Council President James Stanczak, whose seat is not up for election this year.

But not everyone is pleased with council's efforts so far, most notably, challenger Ted Mustaikes, who was appointed mayor from 2010-11.

Mustaikes said that he didn't seek re-election for mayor because he wanted to run for a council seat where he could vote on issues.

“We're reactive and not proactive on issues,” Mustaikes said of the current council.

“Vandergrift is in a pickle — they aren't getting a grant but a low-interest loan for their sewage project,” he said.

Mustaikes said that grants for sewage projects were easier to come by before the recession, adding, “I feel it's too late.”

The borough's greatest challenge is to come up with funding for the sewage project, he said.

“For our little community, we have to get grants,” Mustaikes said. “The majority of the citizens are elderly, and the money is not there to tax the people.”

Incumbent Katy Tedeski, who is also on the board for the Kiski Valley Water Pollution Control Authority, said that there is a PennVest grant, but “we can't do anything with it until the rights of way are signed.”

Getting residents to sign the rights of way is “going to be a challenge,” to start the project, she said.

“This is a beautiful town, but sometimes residents are afraid we're taking their property,” she said.

“They (sewage project contractors) are going to dig up their property, put in a pipeline, cover it up and that's it,” Tedeski said.

Yakulis, who is council's finance chairwoman, said the challenge will be coming up with the money and keeping the sewage separation project costs down.

“I will watch the budget and keep it as tight as possible,” Yakulis said. “We don't want the residents to pay more once the sewage system is installed.”

Also sensitive to the needs of the older residents is Debra Lynn “Charlie” Kukalis, a newcomer to the race who has no political experience. But Kukalis said she has gotten to know the concerns of residents through her volunteer work in the community.

“Nobody is happy,” Kukalis said. “I think that if there's new blood on the council, things would get done faster.”

Christopher Zelonka, a former mayor and current councilman is also calling for change.

“I believe that some of the current council people have been dragging their feet on the right of way issues,” he said. “It could have happened faster. This should have been in place earlier, and we could have done it cheaper.”

Zelonka said he is endorsing the campaigns of the challengers to council —Mustaikes, Kukalis and Urban.

Incumbent Susan Stanczak said she would like to increase community involvement in the sewage project.

“We want people to be aware of what will happen and how long it will take,” she said.

Minimizing the cost to residents has been a priority, Stanczak said.

“We're trying to apply for anything that is out there,” she said. “We have to look at every option to make sure it is cost-effective. And we want to make sure the project is done correctly.”

Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4691 or mthomas@tribweb.com.

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