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Business park sewerage system must be fixed by 2011

| Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2009

County officials have limited time to redesign the sewerage system for the Westmoreland County Business and Research Park and surrounding residents.

The park, which straddles the border of Upper Burrell and Washington Township, relies on a small sewage-treatment plant that handles about 50,000 gallons of waste per day. The plant also serves a few dozen residents from the neighboring Chapeldale housing plan.

However, the plant is unable to treat sewage to the standards set by the state Department of Environmental Protection, according to Jason Rigone, deputy director of the Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corp.

Before the treated sewage is piped into Pucketa Creek along Greensburg Road, it must meet quality standards that are higher than those set for drinking water, Rigone said.

Rigone said the authority that oversees the park's sewage treatment plant is under a consent order from the DEP to correct the problem by the end of 2010.

Rigone said there are two options: Build a bigger plant or connect the system to the Washington Township Municipal Authority, which sends sewage to the Kiski Valley Water Pollution Control Authority for treatment.

Rigone and park authority board Chairman Don Kinosz, the mayor of Lower Burrell, indicated they would prefer the second option even though it initially appears more expensive.

Rigone estimated the cost of connecting with Washington Township at $3.7 million, which would include building a pump station and an estimated five miles of connecting sewerage lines.

Building a new plant for the park would cost about $1.5 million, Rigone said.

However, he believes the Washington Township connection is more likely to receive funding under the new state grant program available for water and sewerage infrastructure projects.

Factors favoring receiving state money include the authority's consent order from the DEP, the regional nature of the project and the consolidation of sewerage systems, Rigone said.

If grant funding is available for the connector project, Rigone said it would become the cheaper option.

He said the monthly cost increase would be about $21 for existing customers, compared to an increase of about $54 per month for the new plant without grant funding. Customers now pay about $50 per month for the average water usage of 200 gallons per day.

Also, customers will pay decreased rates through the Kiski Valley and Washington Township authorities than they do through the park authority.

Rigone said the cost to existing customers also would be minimized because the connection would bring in more customers from Washington Township, who pay tap-in fees and share the debt burden.

Kinosz said he would like to avoid building a new plant because it still will have the same sensitivity to industrial and residential pollutants.

Because the plant is basically a large septic tank that relies on biological filtration, a small amount of certain pollutants disrupt the system, he said.

Plus, Westmoreland County currently subsidizes the sewerage plant because customer rates don't cover the operating costs. Kinosz said the county paid about $82,000 last year.

Township officials indicated they have reservations about connecting the system to Washington Township.

David Kerchner, an engineer for Upper Burrell, agreed that the Washington Township connection would be a more likely state grant candidate, but he argued the new plant option also is a feasible grant recipient. He said if the new plant would receive grant funding, it would become the cheapest option.

Kerchner and supervisors also were displeased to have so little time to consider the plans.

Rigone indicated the county's industrial development corporation will submit an application for the connector project during the first round of state grant funding, the deadline for which is Feb. 13.

Although township supervisors aren't required to approve the project by that date, they said they would have preferred more time to consider it before the application is submitted.

Kinosz said if local support is not forthcoming before the grants are awarded in May, the park's application will be withdrawn.

Supervisor Thomas Baker said he would not support the connection because future development then would be possible in Washington Township, not in Upper Burrell.

Also, he noted the two townships are in litigation over the collection of tax revenue from Leeds in the business park and aren't on the best terms.

He said he would prefer the existing outflow pipe to Pucketa Creek be connected to the New Kensington Sanitary Authority, as initially was proposed when it was installed.

Upper Burrell Solicitor Stephen Yakopec said the New Kensington connection could not occur in the near future because that authority is in the process of upgrading its facilities and can't take on more sewage until the upgrade is finished.

It's unlikely, he said, that a New Kensington connection will be possible before the park authority's 2010 DEP deadline.

Baker said he would prefer the authority build a new plant now and connect to New Kensington later.

"I'm dead-set against this," he said of the Washington Township connector.

Kinosz and Rigone said if the grant doesn't come through or if the townships don't agree to the connection, a new plant will be built.

Although he couldn't make a recommendation on the authority's plans until he has more information, Kirchner said he supported regionalizing sewerage in general.

"I think it's a great idea to get out of the sewage-treatment business," he said of the park authority. "I think a regional approach to treating sewage is almost always better."

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