WWMA board settles on $57.8M plan

| Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012, 8:58 p.m.

Facing a state-imposed deadline, board members of the Western Westmoreland Municipal Authority decided last week that they prefer a plan to replace most of the authority's sewage lines and build a new sewage storage tank as the solution for eliminating discharges of untreated wastewater during heavy rains.

Authority officials will include the proposal, which is estimated to cost $57.8 million, in a report that they must file with the state Department of Environmental Protection by Dec. 31 as part of a consent order agreement requiring the authority, or WWMA, to complete construction by December 2017.

The state is requiring the authority to implement sewer-system improvements to be able to handle overflows that could occur during a “two-year storm,” which is a moderately strong storm that has a 50-percent chance of happening in any given year.

About 10 to 15 sanitary-system overflows happen every year at the WWMA's treatment plant, which causes untreated but diluted wastewater to be “bypassed” into Brush Creek in North Huntingdon.

Manor Borough is mandated to complete a $3 million project to stop another 30 annual overflows caused by a system in which some pipelines collect sanitary-sewer water and storm water.

Under the recommendation WWMA is submitting to the state, the authority would replace about 6.7 miles of its 7.2 miles of interceptor sewer pipelines and build a storage tank that would hold as much as 5 million gallons of wastewater before slowly releasing it into the plant for treatment.

The board's preferred option also enables the authority to prepare for anticipated future growth in its six-community service region by installing larger pipes.

“This is the best that you can get, and it's not a short-sighted view that's just simply trying to put something there that's going to be outmoded, outdated, obsolete or readdressed, which is our biggest fear before this is paid for,” said Tony Marks, a Penn Township resident whose five-year term is expiring at the end of the year.

“The money here is well spent.”

Mark Wolinsky, Tim Watson, Joseph Knouse, Barbara McIntyre and Stan Caroline joined Marks in voting Dec. 20 for the plan, which was one of six under consideration with price tags ranging from $39.6 million to $68.1 million. Chuck Konkus and Robert Wayman were absent for the vote. Two other seats on the board are vacant.

Caroline, who is the manager of the Penn Township Sewage Authority, said he is confident this plan is the best long-term solution. In another option, the board considered building two storage tanks and replacing fewer lines.

With this plan, the authority still would have the ability to install another tank in Harrison City or Paintertown if the DEP later requires it to prepare for a “five-year storm,” or one that has a 20-percent chance of happening in any year, Caroline said.

Consulting engineer Brad Boddy said he also is evaluating a potential seventh option that still would improve the interceptor system but lead to modifications at the North Huntingdon treatment plant. He said he's confident he'll be able to complete that review and the cost estimates by mid-February, just weeks before the DEP wants WWMA to begin the design of the chosen project.

In the meantime, Solicitor John Campfield will draft a proposed amendment to the WWMA service agreement requesting that the member municipalities — Penn Township, Irwin, North Irwin, Manor, North Huntingdon and Hempfield — extend the eligible debt term for WWMA.

The authority's financial planners are recommending a 25-year term, which is six years longer than the existing conditions that limit WWMA to a project equal to the longest current sewage project by a member community.

“It gives us a better opportunity to level the debt, extend the debt out and, therefore, reduce the annual impact on the ratepayers,” Campfield said.

Earlier this month, WWMA officials estimated rates could rise by $14 to $24 per quarter in 2014 if they borrowed $45 million to pay off a loan for the project. The increase would be on the lower side if the authority receives a longer loan.

Despite identifying their preferred plan, the board didn't specify any updated estimates for debt service if the project costs $57.8 million.

Board members already approved a $15-per-quarter increase for 2013 to pay for design work for the project.

Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8671, or cforeman@tribweb.com.

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