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Authority files suit against New Florence

| Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, 9:04 p.m.

Officials for the Seward/St. Clair Township Sanitary Authority say they're owed more than $30,000 for damage caused by sewage they claim was treated improperly by the New Florence-St. Clair Township Sanitary Authority.

The Seward authority's solicitor, Les Mlakar, has filed a civil lawsuit in Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court that alleges the New Florence authority knew about the problem for six years, leading to damage of 16 manholes and a pump station.

Mlakar said each authority formed a committee last year to work with their solicitors to reach an agreement.

But the last meeting was held six to eight months ago, he said.

“I'm confident that this will be resolved without going to trial,” Mlakar said. “But we filed in an effort to expedite the process and get this taken care of. We have been trying to schedule another meeting to reach a settlement.”

New Florence authority solicitor Brad Smith declined comment, saying he had not seen the lawsuit.

New Florence board member Sharon McGinnis said the authority has continually adjusted its treatment procedure, based on Seward officials' recommendations.

Around 2001, the New Florence authority built a system that linked to Seward's system.

The complaint alleges that in late 2005, Seward authority officials became aware of odor problems at the Sugar-Run Pump Station along Route 711, near Robb Road in St. Clair Township.

According to the complaint, U.S. Filter Corp., an independent water testing company, determined excess concentrations of hydrogen sulfide from the New Florence sewer pipes was causing the odor and recommended that a specific chemical solution should be used to control odor and corrosion.

In 2007, the state Department of Environmental Protection issued a violation to the New Florence authority for excess hydrogen sulfide, according to court records.

In 2009, a report from Gibson-Thomas Engineering Co. said that “hydrogen sulfide levels were excessive and at times dangerous” and caused “nuisance conditions to the public, damage to the collection system and equipment and hazardous conditions for Seward's operator,” the suit said.

That violated an agreement between the two authorities and New Florence was sent a copy of each report, along with several letters, Mlakar said.

It cost almost $17,000 to repair the manholes and pump station. In addition, the authority is seeking payment for legal fees and punitive damages.

“As members, we feel that we bought into the system, and we adjust based on what Seward tells us to do,” McGinnis said. “All of our treatment numbers are sent to Seward, and we adjust the numbers based on what they say.”

“I don't understand why we should have to pay when we're adjusting our chemicals based on what Seward says. We're just waiting for the lawyers to work it out,” she said.

The New Florence authority has 20 days to file a response to the civil complaint.

Jewels Phraner is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-1218 or jphraner@tribweb.com.

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