Some Pucketa Creek residents remain frustrated with FTMSA sewage solution
What began as a possible solution for a handful of property owners living with failing septic systems along the Pucketa Creek border with Washington Township has led to a potential financial hardship for some of their neighbors.
Their initial source of frustration was a years-long delay in getting access to Washington Township’s sewer lines. Some homeowners were battling failing septic systems, and were not legally able to fix them due to state regulations regarding Pucketa Creek and other waterways.
Following meetings between officials from the Franklin Township Municipal Sanitary Authority, Washington Township and the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, an inter-municipal agreement was executed and now some residents remain frustrated, but for a different reason: many of them, including those with fully functioning septic systems, could face thousands of dollars in tapping fees and other costs associated with the sewer expansion.
Following an Aug. 28 meeting in Murrysville with a group of about 20 property owners, resident frustration has shifted to the potential cost of tying into Washington Township’s system, which in some cases is upwards of $14,000, according to a copy of the inter-municipal agreement provided to the Tribune-Review.
FTMSA solicitor Wes Long said all of the parties involved “were summoned to the DEP’s (Pittsburgh waterfront) office for a meeting,” he said. “The DEP indicated that they wanted this Pucketa Creek sewer expansion project to occur … The politicians got involved, and then the DEP got involved and started putting pressure on us.”
Long stressed one mandate which came down from the DEP was that “everyone involved has to be treated the same.”
That echoes one of the goals put forth by Washington Township Supervisor Rich Gardner in the early years of the project.
“It doesn’t really matter what the number (of tie-ins) is, but whatever the arrangements are, we expect and insist that it be the same for everyone,” Gardner said in 2015.
FTMSA Chairman Jim Rumbaugh told residents at the Aug. 28 meeting that treating everyone the same was “the only way to get it done. … Whether there were errors in the past or not, we’re going to move forward.”
For Dan Pilon, who lives along Greensburg Road near Pucketa Creek and has a functioning septic system, the news from the meeting was a shock.
“I have three holding tanks and we don’t have a problem with our sewage,” Pilon said. “I’d have never bought the property if I’d have known I’d have to come up with thousands of dollars to pay for this.”
Pilon said a surveyor who looked at his property assured him he was “way too far away from the Washington Township line for them to require me to hook in.”
That was not the case following the information presented Aug. 28.
The Municipal Authority of Washington Township will handle construction, with FTMSA essentially serving as its customer, paying the authority for construction as well as paying ongoing fees in the future.
“The FTMSA in turn will recoup its expenses and fees from the individual property owners who are part of the expansion project,” Long said.
The 39 properties within the Pucketa Creek Watershed were divided into three groups.
One group is properties which the Washington Township sewer line touches. Long said those property owners will have to connect to the lines if they have made improvements to their land.
The second group is properties the sewer line touches, but where nothing is built. Those property owners would owe debt service for the project, and even if they were to build on the property, could continue to simply pay the debt service.
“There’s an advantage for them in that regard,” Long said.
The third group is properties the line does not touch. Those property owners could choose to connect to the system in the future, but it is not mandatory.
Lynn Full of Murrysville, who also lives on Greensburg Road, said she is not wild about the price, but is happy to see a resolution finally in sight.
“It is what it is,” she said. “I’m one of those who wants the sewage, although it’s probably going to cost me more than most folks, with the stream crossing and getting up the slope.”
Full said she understands why the DEP wants the area serviced with sewage.
“We live along a stream. My house is 43 years old,” she said. “There are houses that have been here for well over 50 years. It’s hard to believe that all their septic systems are working fine.”
Rumbaugh said a functional septic system doesn’t make residents exempt from public sewer coming into a new area.
“(FTMSA vice chair Bob) Mitall had a perfectly operating septic tank at his home on Bulltown Road,” Rumbaugh said. “At one point, Murrysville decided they had too many bad septic systems up there. They ran a line all the way up Bulltown Road and charged him $10,000 for a tap that he’s been paying for the past 20 years, even though he had a septic tank that was working.”
Pilon said his understanding of the situation was a small group of property owners were trying to gain access to a nearby sewage line, but the entire situation changed once the inter-municipal agreement was put in place.
“We who have adequate systems are going to be required to pay for those who don’t, and that’s really unfair,” he said.
Rumbaugh, who is part of a largely new board of directors at FTMSA, said he could not speak for past administrations.
“As long as we treat everyone in that service area the same, that’s all we have to do and that’s what we’re doing here,” Rumbaugh told residents. “You might not like it, but that’s what we’re doing.”
Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, [email protected] or via Twitter .