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Cecil 'on hook' to update sewer lines in Lawrence

| Sunday, Aug. 10, 2014, 11:13 p.m.
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Across Federal Street from his house, Andrew Boyd looks down into a steep drop-off where his sewage line empties out and eventually drains into Chartiers Creek.

A gas grill that Andrew Boyd bought a decade ago stands inside his garage — unused.

“In the summertime, you can't have a cookout because of the smell,” said Boyd, 77, a resident of Lawrence, a former coal community on the edge of Cecil in northern Washington County. “You have to keep your windows closed.”

The smell comes from a system of wildcat sewer lines used by most of the about 300 homes in Lawrence. At least eight such lines flow into Chartiers Creek, including one that opens onto a hillside across from Boyd's house.

Cecil commissioners last week voted to hire a grant writer to pursue $2.2 million in casino taxes to extend public sewer lines to Lawrence. Officials estimate the project, discussed for decades, will cost $6 million and take four years to complete.

“They've needed this probably for 20 years,” said Tom Casciola, president of Cecil's board of supervisors.

The township has committed $1 million to the project, as has its municipal authority. Almost $2 million will be raised through $1,500 tap-in fees to be paid by residents, Casciola said.

The remaining money is being sought through a Local Share Assessment grant, collected from table-game revenue at The Meadows Racetrack & Casino in North Strabane. Township officials are looking into the availability of federal money, Casciola said.

Because the township filed a plan under Act 537, the state law that requires municipalities to correct and prevent sewage disposal problems, it must follow through with fixing Lawrence's longstanding problem — regardless of whether state or federal funding comes through, Casciola said. “We're on the hook for it now,” he said. “We pulled the trigger. There's no turning back.”

In urging fellow supervisors to support paying a grant writer, Casciola said he received assurance from state Sen. Tim Solobay that the Canonsburg Democrat would support the effort as his “pet project.”

Casciola later said he regretted using the phrase, which drew criticism on social media from state Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil.

“There's no guarantees, but he promised to help us,” Casciola said of Solobay. “Maybe the word ‘pet' was a poor choice.”

Solobay said he would write a support letter to be included with the grant application.

“You've got raw sewage running down the streets in Lawrence. That is something that needs to be addressed,” Solobay said. He called White's criticism “typical, political garbage.”

White last year took heat for blasting gas-drilling opponents online by using aliases, including one that parodied Solobay.

White posted his recent comments under his name and said he responded to a Facebook post about the “pet project” comment.

“I was shocked,” White said. “That ‘pet project' thing just isn't how things are supposed to work.”

White said he supports the Lawrence project and offered the free use of a staff grant writer to save the township money.

“I want to help. It's my job,” White said. “We can make these projects happen for people, but we have to work together.”

Casciola, who lost to White in the May Democratic primary for his House seat, questioned whether White's involvement would help.

Despite their differences, Solobay said he would welcome White's assistance.

“At the end of the day, we want to make sure our communities have what they need to grow, in terms of infrastructure and public safety,” Solobay said.

Boyd said the sewer lines are needed, regardless of who facilitates the work.

“If it rains or not, you can hear water running,” Boyd said, standing near a trickling street drain. “That's from everything — sewer water, dishwater, laundry. The whole block flows through.”

Jason Cato is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7936.

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