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Washington Township project 'in limbo' with no word on funding

| Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The municipal authority board in Washington Township, Fayette County, has learned that it must wait longer to find out if it can use a multi-million dollar grant to drastically cut rates for its $20.8 million sanitary sewer project.

The board late last year became involved in applying for a $7.5 million grant through a state program called H2O PA.

Under the program, up to $800 million will be available over 10 years for water, sewer and storm sewer systems, dams and flood control projects.

Board members have been optimistic that they will receive the grant because the project is ready for construction and has received support from the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority, which is providing a $9.8 million loan and a $1.2 million grant for the system.

But at the authority board's meeting Tuesday night, Judy Spray, of Indianola-based engineering firm Bankson Engineers, said the project's fate is now "in limbo."

"Originally, they said they were going to announce on May 14," Spray said of the H20 grant awards.

The board previously asked PennVEST to extend its grant and loan offer because it was going to apply for the H2O money. PennVEST approved an extension to June 30.

"Because we don't think we're going to know before June 30, I've asked PennVEST for another extension," Spray said.

Authority Board Chairwoman Dee Fisher said the project would be "unaffordable" without the H20 grant.

"We may be small, but we deserve as much political attention and financial help as anyone else, not just crumbs tossed our way," she said.

Without the grant, tap-in fees are expected to be $5,100 per household.

Monthly rates would exceed $60. Customers have to hire contractors to connect lines from their homes and businesses to the system.

For every $1 million in grant money obtained, the tap-in fee would be reduced by about $600, authority officials have said.

The authority board has secured an additional $1.1 million in grant money for the project.

It has also applied for a $500,000 competitive grant from the Fayette County Redevelopment Authority that would help low-income residents pay for tap-in fees.

Despite the delay, Spray said she is optimistic that the township will receive the H20 PA grant.

"I believe that a lot of those projects are not shovel-ready," she said of other grant applicants.

Spray said she also believes that PennVEST will extend its grant and loan offer.

"I feel good about it because this was ranked a priority project by the (state Department of Environmental Protection)," she said.

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