FRYBURG - The Washington Township Board of Supervisors Nov. 14 meeting saw roughly 30-plus residents in attendance, with some asking questions and voicing their opinions on a planned sewerage extension within the township.
At the onset of the meeting, the board of supervisors along with the municipal authority, EADS group engineers and the township's newly hired legal counsel Joseph H. Keebler, Jr. entered into an executive closed-door session.
After the group reentered the meeting room following the executive session, Keebler noted the executive session dealt with the discussion of litigation-related matters.
Soon after, Keebler said the board of supervisors would not give consent toward audio or video recording of the meeting.
"The board does not consent to any recording of the meeting, whether audio or video," Keebler said. "Under Pennsylvania law, unless consent is given for recording purposes, recording of audio cannot be made so we're not consenting to that."
(The CLARION NEWS believes Keebler is mistaken on the matter of consent for recording public meetings. Please see accompanying report Clarion News contends ban on recording was improper')
Keebler went on to explain supervisors would hear remarks made by residents during the public comment portion of the meeting, but would not respond to questions based on the filed litigation surrounding the sewerage extension.
The proposed sewerage line extension in question is intended for sections of State Route 208 and Dempseytown Road. The extension is part of a Department of Environmental Protection consent decree relating to the replacement of a failing 2012 sewage plant with an upgraded plant.
According to a document provided to residents who contacted The EADS Group engineers after the meeting, PennVEST funding for the 2012 plant upgrades, which was applied for by the township sewer authority, consisted of a grant of $419,366 and a loan of $1,780,6334 at 1 percent interest for a 30-year term.
The document also states the extension is a project of the sewer authority, not the township supervisors. The authority expects to receive a PennVEST funding offer on Jan. 29, 2020. The offer could include a grant, loan, or combination of the two.
The document states the current sewer base rate is $70, with the addition of $15 per every 1,000 gallons of water used. Future sewer rates are said to be dependent on the PennVEST funding offer, which township officials indicate could be rejected and the project would be resubmitted until a more affordable rate is obtained.
Grant applications include an H2O PA grant to be submitted on Dec. 13 for the full project amount. The grant requires 33 percent matching funds from the sewer authority and can be combined with PennVEST funding.
An estimated project timeline shows a PennVEST funding offer is expected to be received Jan. 29, 2020. Construction could then take place between July and December of 2020 and resident connections to the lines would take place within the spring and summer of 2021.
Forwarded emails provided to the CLARION NEWS by the township show that in July, EADS Group engineer Kyle Fritz sent an email to DEP Environmental Program manager John Holden asking whether it would be in the best interests of the township to take no further action toward the Act 537 Plan (sewer line extension) after a resident broached the topic during a previous township meeting.
Holden responded, "DEP's November 2, 2018 approval was based on the information, including but not limited to, the suspected and confirmed malfunctions in the study area and the proposed solution to install sewer extension(s) to address the identified sewage needs.
"Unless there is new information available regarding the suspected and confirmed malfunction rates or available soils for repair of the existing malfunctions in the identified areas, developing an Act 537 plan revision that proposes a do nothing' approach would not meet the specific needs of that municipality."
Holden concluded by saying a plan that would not meet the requirements of the act cannot be approved by DEP.
Previous meetings have seen opponents of the extension speaking on what they say are falsified sewage reports and miscalculations of costs associated with the revision of the plan. Under that reasoning, they have argued that the township should choose not to undergo the extension project.
Township resident Kevin McCauley sent an appeal of the revision to the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board in September. Township officials confirmed they had received a notice of the appeal during the township's Oct. 10 session.
A pre-hearing order sent from the environmental hearing board back to McCauley indicated DEP representatives and opponents would need to come together to find a way to settle the matter as part of a disposition. Opponents have stated previously they will only settle for no further action to be taken as part of the Act 537 plan.
If no agreement is made, Environmental Hearing Board Judge Steven C. Beckman in Erie could hear a case regarding the proposed extension
An Oct. 23 meeting organized by residents ultimately ended with the donation of over $2,500 by residents toward the hiring of a municipal law firm based in Erie to represent opponents in a potential case.
Moods get tense
During the Nov. 14 meeting's public comment period, McCauley spoke, saying he had talked with PennVEST project manager Dave Henning on the day of the October resident meeting. McCauley indicated Henning had apologized to him and township residents, adding he was aware residents are already paying well above a PennVEST projected $50 just and reasonable base rate.
McCauley also said Henning told him even with a PennVEST loan, grant or combination thereof, township residents rates would still not come down to the just and reasonable rate. He said Henning suggested the township should refile the revision to take no action because it has been done successfully in the past elsewhere.
McCauley also said he had learned from a lawyer residents had retained following the October meeting that Keebler was looking to hire the firm in a lawsuit against the residents and had approached the residents' lawyer.
Keebler said the claim was "absolutely false," noting he had spoken with the lawyer but not concerning a lawsuit.
McCauley asked Keebler if he had "found another municipal lawyer to come against the residents of our township."
Keebler said he had found another attorney who handles environmental law to address the actions that had been filed with the environmental hearing board.
"They're using our taxpayer money to go out and find a municipal lawyer to go against the suit that we're filing against DEP and now the township," McCauley told the crowd.
McCauley asked the township supervisors if they were willing to file a no action submission to DEP. Ultimately, supervisors did not respond to any questions regarding the litigation topic as Keebler announced would be the case at the beginning of the meeting.
"You guys need to come out and just tell us if you are going to file a no action," said McCauley. "If not, we all want your resignations so that we can put supervisors in that will file a no action."
The next Washington Township Board of Supervisors meeting is set for 7 p.m. Dec. 12 at the township fire hall.n