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Hearing set for Gilpin church's sewage issue

| Saturday, June 28, 2003

LEECHBURG: A Gilpin church has until September to find a way to hook up to the township's sewer line, according to District Justice Michael Gerheim.

Officials from the Second Baptist Church of Leechburg, located on Route 66, had a hearing before Gerheim on June 17 because church officials have failed to install a sewer line that officials from the Gilpin Township Sewage Authority claim is mandatory.

Authority officials have been attempting to get the church connected for several years.

"The cost is much higher than they can put forward, and there's a high risk of liability," said Mary McGinley, the church's lawyer. It would cost about $3,500 to install the line, and the church sits on a steep hillside, which could make it dangerous for contractors to install the line, she said.

The church has raised about $1,500, and would have to come up with about $2,000.

Church council member Ernest Lovelace said he's worried that if something happened to the contractor's equipment, or an employee or the church would be liable.

Lovelace was one of about 15 church members who attended the hearing.

"We would put the sewer line in tomorrow under reasonable circumstances," Lovelace said. He argued that there's a clause that states sewer lines don't have to be installed if it's an excessive cost or a hazard.

Gerheim said it's normally the contractor's responsibility to assume any liability, and said the church has a very capable lawyer in McGinley to make sure church officials work out a fair agreement with a contractor.

McGinley also said church members are afraid to take out a loan because about 95 percent of its members, which number under 100, are either retired or very young, and members are afraid the church could be taken away if they were to default on the loan.

"I really think they feel they could lose this church," McGinley said.

Both Gerheim and authority Solicitor Bob Cinpinski said they also don't believe it would put that large of a financial burden on the church if they were to take out a loan.

Gerheim said if church officials were to take out a loan, it would only cost about $40 a month for five years.

McGinley said there is a chance that the church could receive funds from a grant given out by the Armstrong Community Foundation, but officials won't know until September if the grant is approved.

"I think everyone has sympathy for a church of any kind," Gerheim said, "but it's not the responsibility of the township, either." Both Gerheim and Cinpinski said they're intention is not to start enforcing large fines, which already could have been implemented.

Gerheim said he'll continue the hearing until September to see if the church gets grant money.

"By the end of September, this matter will be resolved on way or another," Gerheim said, "Or I'm going to start to add up fines."

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