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Water project under way in Derry Township

| Wednesday, April 18, 2012, 2:54 p.m.

With the addition of municipal water service to about 200 customers in the Sundial area of Derry Township, Harry Lavsa, who lives on Garrigan Hill Road, said he is grateful for the added safety.

"We've been out here in the countryside all these years ... the fireplugs will make it easier for our firefighters in Derry Township. I hope we never have to use them," Lavsa said.

Highridge Water Authority, which has 1,462 customers Derry Township in Westmoreland County and 3,541 customers in various municipalities in Indiana County, is overseeing the $3.34 million project. Homeowners in the area now rely on well water.

"We're anxious to get it started, and I know there's a lot of anxious people out there," said Executive Director George Sulkosky.

Construction on the pumping station, estimated to cost $329,000, has begun while the water line installation, expected to cost $1.45 million, is set to begin by April 1.

The 46,313 linear feet of pipe will stretch along a section of the township near Route 22 from Auction Barn Road to just past Route 982, following parts of Westinghouse, Garrigan Hill, Livermore, Stark and Spring roads, and a few smaller lanes, including those in a mobile home park.

A water tank estimated to cost $350,000 will also be installed off Truman Road along with 13 fire hydrants.

The pumping station will be installed by Greensburg Environmental. The water tank will be installed by Mid-Atlantic Storage of Washington, Ohio. Some 34,813 feet of water line will be installed by DT Construction of Dunbar.

Discussions for the extension began in 1998, but were delayed until about 2006, Sulkosky said.

"It was up until then we could not get a mandatory connection ordinance" from the township, he said. Without it, the state would not offer the authority the long-term, low-interest loan necessary to fund the extension.

"They want to make sure their loan to you gets repaid, and if people aren't tapping in, there might be a problem with them getting paid by Highridge," Sulkosky said.

The ordinance requires any homeowner within 250 feet of the main waterline to tap-in and many people are eager for the project to start, Derry Township Supervisor Vince DeCario said.

"This is area where it needs it and a lot of people want it," DeCario.

Lavsa said his family -- including his mother Esther Lavsa, who is a retired member of the Highridge Water Authority board -- will be glad to no longer rely on well water.

"Wells can run dry, and water tables can change. You never know what's going on down in the ground," he said.

Tap-in fees are $1,095, but some homeowners may be able to obtain grant money, depending on income. The final list has not yet been provided to the authority, Sulkosky said.

The Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority, known as PennVEST, is contributing a $2.48 million loan to the project. Derry Township has contributed $550,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant funds.

The water authority will contribute $340,000 as well to the project, which will be covered partially by a rate hike enacted earlier this year, Sulkosky said.

Prior to this year, rates had not increased since 1999, but increases were necessary to cover the rising costs of chemicals, fuel, electricity and other operating costs, he said.

"The reason we didn't have to increase them (rates) is we kept acquiring new customers, thereby acquiring new revenues, and we were able to keep pace with expenses," Sulkosky said.

Construction is expected to be completed by the end of September. The authority will then notify potential customers, who will have 90 days to connect to the system.

If not properly connected within that time, the authority could place a lien against the property, Sulkosky said.

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