Murrysville officials worry sewer troubles could slow development
Problems with sewage lines could give developers pause before they pursue new projects and prompt the state to further limit the number of new sewer connections available in the Murrysville area.
The Franklin Township Municipal Sanitary Authority was limited in how many new sewer line connections it could approve this year because more sewage flowed into the system in 2011 than was permitted, said state Department of Environmental Protection spokesman John Poister.
However, problems with a main line near the Monroeville-Murrysville border might cause state officials to further limit what the sanitary authority can do.
The authority last year delayed a nearly $5 million project to repair a faulty sewer line that dumped millions of gallons of sewage and waste into Turtle Creek this year. Poister said he expects the deadline for the project to be extended a second time.
In a worst-case scenario, continued delays could result in a ban on any new sewer connections, he said.
“If we continue to get delays from FTMSA, at some point we may need to go that route,” Poister said. “But we would probably enter into (an agreement) instead that has definitive deadlines and penalties for not meeting the deadlines.”
At least one Murrysville official said he worries about the consequences of FTMSA's problems.
Councilman Dave Perry – the municipal liaison to the authority's board of directors – said he worries that the frequent breaks could stall development.
“As any resident of Murrysville should, I have concerns that problems with the system could cause potential tap-in restrictions from DEP,” Perry said.
A ‘disheartening' discovery
Developer Herky Pollock, whose $18 million Blue Spruce Shoppes opened last month in Murrysville along Route 22, said he encountered sewer-related problems while preparing the first phase of the development.
Pollock said that after cement was poured for sidewalks and asphalt laid for the parking lots of the 72,000 square-foot development, he learned that the sewage system didn't have the capacity to handle the waste from his project.
After meeting with authority officials and the FTMSA board, a deal was struck to install grinder pumps to stop sewage overflow at the development. Pollock said the authority will reimburse Pollock for the cost — which hasn't yet been determined — of installing the pumps.
Pollock said “it's very disheartening” that he wasn't made aware of the problems with the sewage system.
“I'm flabbergasted,” he said. “In my 28 years in this business, I've never encountered a situation such as this where, first of all, this problem exists, and where it is not fully disclosed.”
Chuck Hergenroeder, chairman of the Murrysville Economic and Community Development Corp., said his group hasn't been notified of any problems with FTMSA but that any word of problems would get around fast with developers
“If you can't get sewers that work, you can't do development,” Hergenroeder said.
Authority engineer Steve Polen recommend this fall conducting an extensive, $2.2 million study of the sewage system.
“My recommendation is to get ahead of the concerns that DEP has,” Polen said. “It is a lot of work to do.”
Meanwhile, talk of further development in the area continues.
Earlier this year, developer Richard Kacin proposed building 84 homes along Murrysville Golf Course.
That proposal died when golf course owners withdrew a rezoning request that would have made the development possible.
Mark Adamchik, chairman of the authority's board of directors, said the change in plans was a relief.
“We're stuck between a rock and a hard place,” Adamchik said.
“The golf course delay was good for us.”
State officials have had concerns about how much more the sewage treatment plant can handle, Poister said.
Adamchik said there were several problems with manholes overflowing during construction with the Blue Spruce Shoppes.
Authority manager Jim Brucker attributed those problems to heavy rainfall.
The problems date back to 2011, when the authority reported a hydraulic overload at the sewage treatment plan.
Under DEP regulations, the authority is required to restrict the number of new tap-ins – the number of new connections into the system – when too much sewage is pumped through a station that isn't approved to handle that amount.
In 2013, the authority approved 284 more tap-ins, Poister said.
The department will evaluate whether the limit will be lifted in March.
“We do not want to add a significant amount of additional flow to a system that is already overloaded,” Poister said.
“Under the (corrective action plan), FTMSA is required to submit a tap request to us each year, and then we will approve a certain number of taps.”
FTMSA officials say the majority of the system's problems will be alleviated by repairing the force main. That project could begin in early 2014. Poister said the breaks need to stop.
Brucker reported 15 breaks between July and September, each dumping at least 1 million gallons of waste into Turtle Creek.
Though authority workers have repaired all breaks and none have occurred since September, Poister said the prior breaks are significant and all breaks need to be addressed as quickly as possible.
Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8627.