Jeannette municipal authority expansion to cost $9.6 million
The City of Jeannette Municipal Authority will spend more than $21 million in total upgrades by the end of 2018 and customers can expect their bills to increase along the way.
The plant on South Railroad Street in Penn Borough was built in 1938 and, while it has been upgraded with new technologies and mechanical improvements along the way, this is the first time it is being expanded.
The work underway has been ordered by the Department of Environmental Protection and the costs associated with it increased customer bills this year and will likely increase them again next year.
The $9.6 million project underway at the plant now and expected to be finished later this year will do a few things, according to Doug Pike, plant superintendent. The plant services all of Jeannette and Penn Borough and parts of Hempfield and Penn townships. All of the material is essentially carried by gravity to one location where it is pumped up to the plant.
Once there, the material makes its way through the treatment system through large screens to block debris. The screens need to be manually cleaned once or twice a day in the existing system, but the new system will do that work automatically. That means a minimized chance that sewage would back up into the collection system and damage the pumps during heavy rain events. The new, finer screening system is being installed in a new head works building being built now just outside the authority's main office.
Because the plant is also expanding, the authority will go from being able to go from treating four million gallons of flow each day to treating 10.5 million gallons of flow. The expansion is not intended to bring new customers to the authority, though it will have the capacity to do so if necessary. The expansion is meant to deal with stormwater that comes to the plant via combined pipes and the storm water that just infiltrates the system.
“This will just handle peak flows and storm events,” said Pike.
Pike said the system in place isn't really meant to treat stormwater, but in some cases its more cost efficient to treat it than to try to separate it out from the rest of the material pumped to the authority. In the late 1990s, for example, the authority spent several years trying to reduce storm water infiltrating by lining existing pipes.
While that work was effective, it wasn't sufficient to handle the real problem. Essentially, the more storm water the plant is expected to treat, the more potential there is for poor water quality at the end of the treatment process when the flow is discharged into Brush Creek.
Eventually, the DEP stepped in and began to require the authority to make improvements to improve that water quality. Along the way, Pike said, the authority has been working with the DEP to take steps toward improvement. Lining the pipes worked for a while, but Pike said the authority has always known the end result would be adding on to the system.
“Two things happen without the expansion,” said Pike. “We have backup into homes and discharge of raw sewage into the stream or we can't meet our discharge standards. Now we're at the point with the DEP that now we need to (build it).”
Nick Masciantonio, a longtime authority board member, said there is always some work being done in the City of Jeannette to comply with DEP orders.
Residents have noticed ongoing work in the area of Lowry Avenue in recent weeks and that work is to separate a combined stormwater and sewage pipe the comes from the Wiley Avenue neighborhood and travels by gravity down Lowry toward Division. That work is in concert with the larger expansion project and both have the same end goal — lowering the amount of stormwater that is pumped to the main system each day.
The work that is going on now was designed in 2009 and was ordered by the DEP. Pike said the authority is now under a consent order from the DEP and as a result there will be work to upgrade the system for at least the next five years. The expansion project costs are divided between a $5.28 million Pennvest state grant, a $2.99 million Pennvest loan borrowed at a rate of 1 percent interest and nearly $600,000 in state H20 grant funds.
Pike explains that the authority has always operated by borrowing funds for projects and then raising customer rates as needed to pay those loans back rather than raising rates incrementally each year in order to save up money in advance of projects.
As a result, customers saw an increase in January and will almost certainly see another increase in the beginning of 2014. Pike is unsure what the increase will be at this time as the 2014 budget will be built and voted on later this fall.
Pike said customers will probably see a rate increase each January for a while. Part of the reason for that is once this expansion project is finished this December, plans will begin for a $12 million project described as a long-term control plan that will eliminate combined sewer areas in the City of Jeannette. Pike said the DEP has mandated that the next project be complete by 2018.
“Everything we're doing is being driven by outside forces,” said Masciantonio. “And these things will need to be paid for by the rate payers. It came to the point that the DEP has put us under the consent order and said what needs to be done and by what time and if we do not comply, there will be a penalty. We're between a rock and a hard place.”
Masciantonio said he is concerned as a board member that customers understand recent and future rate increases relate to the work being done at the plant and that work is required to be done.
Pike envisions the existing debt services, from the expansion project and the planned separation of combined sewers, to begin to ease by 2020 — at that time he expects the authority to begin planning a project that will begin to upgrade the original system and pipes that were installed in 1938. At that point, Pike hopes, the work could be financed without continual rate increases as the authority would be able to use the money freed up by paying off debts.
“If it hasn't been rehabbed in the last 20 years, it probably needs to be done,” said Pike.
Kristie Linden is an editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-838-5154.