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Authority plans upgrade to plant

| Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2008

Westmoreland Fayette Municipal Authority is hoping to know by early 2009 if the U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved an approximate $14 million loan to expand and upgrade its plant.

Upgrades to the plant are necessary, say officials. But this could also mean a rate increase for customers.

Dick Widmer, a representative of Widmer Engineering, the authority's engineer, explained the project to Everson Council members this week.

Widmer said the authority has been working on a plan for three years for upgrade of the plant. The current facility was built in the 1960s. He said it is antiquated and costing nearly $100,000 a year in repairs.

"The plant was built in the early '60s and the typical life span of a trickling filter plant is about 25 years," Widmer said. "It's getting difficult to operate because you can't find parts anymore -- they have to be specially manufactured. Right now we're just putting Band-Aids on a plant that just isn't working properly."

Widmer said the authority is required to keep up with state mandates to continue operation.

"They want the overflows functioning just a few times a year, but ours functions every time it rains," he said.

"The planning incorporates our current customers plus included the possibility of bringing in customers from Upper Tyrone and East Huntingdon townships," Widmer said. "East Huntingdon is willing to pay for the capacity they use, but we will need to have a decision from Upper Tyrone as to whether they want to participate before we secure funding so we can reduce the capacity if they decide not to."

The proposal also calls for upgrades to the intercepter that carries the flow from Scottdale and Everson to the plant.

"This kind of project does not come without some significant cost, and this project will be in the neighborhood of $14 million," Widmer said. "Right now the rates with the USDA have dropped from about 5 percent to just under 3 percent and that's as low as we've ever seen."

The authority has filed an application for the funding.

But regardless of the low-interest rate, Widmer warned that there would be significant increase to the customer's sewage rates.

While he would not say what that rate would be, he did say the average rate sewage rate is approximately $45, and the authority hopes to keep it below that number.

"This isn't going to happen tomorrow or the next year, but we wanted you to know the plan has started," Widmer said.

If the loan is approved, the authority hopes to start design on the project by next summer. It could be another year before construction is started.

"I'd say the earliest that anyone could see a rate increase would be some time in 2010," Widmer said.

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