Calls continue to halt of Washington sewage project

By Brett Kriebel

CLARION NEWS Writer

FRYBURG

Washington Township Supervisors Jan. 6 again heard calls to halt a proposed sewerage service line extension project.

Kevin McCauley and Bill Aaron are township residents who have called for township officials to take no further action toward the project, claiming it would actually be harmful to the future of the community.

Both have said it is possible for officials to scrap the project.

Conversely, the township's engineer, The EADS Group, has made it known the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection will not accept an approach that does not address the needs of an Act 537 Plan submitted by township supervisors in November 2018 and approved by DEP thereafter.

"We don't understand why our township supervisors are fighting us," said McCauley. "Why they went out to get another lawyer because of the litigation. The only thing that's in everybody's minds right now is you're defending the indefensible.

"You're defending The EADS Group because they pushed you into this when you had a way out and you still have a way out of this. We all know it."

McCauley added he believed the township's future sewer rate would not decrease even if the township received a combination of grants and/or PennVest loans.

A project fact sheet provided to residents at a previous meeting by township officials disputes McCauley's claim, stating a PennVest application for funding the extension project was submitted Oct. 28.

In addition, the township's municipal sewer authority, which heads the project, expects to receive a funding offer Jan. 29.

A future sewer rate is said to be dependent on the funding offer. According to the fact sheet, the authority is not planning to substantially raise rates for current or future customers. If a favorable funding offer is not received from PennVest, the offer may be rejected and the project resubmitted until a more affordable rate can be obtained.

The fact sheet also states the current sewer rate consists of a $70 base rate, plus $15 per every 1,000 gallons of water used. For a family of four using roughly 3,000 gallons of water in a month, the total rate could conceivably amount to $115 per month.

McCauley stated he has collected sewage bills from residents in Fryburg and Marble, which he said have reached $300 a month.

Supervisor Eric Bauer said the base rate is not $300 and has previously stated township officials would not accept funding which forced such bills to be put in place.

Supervisor Thomas Maher said his current sewage bill is only $100 a month, depending on the amount of usage. He added there are currently two people living in his home.

Despite contradicting assertions between both parties, McCauley stated the idea of DEP allowing the township to do away with the extension is still valid.

"I'll come in, I'll help you do it and show you how it's done," McCauley said. "I'm asking you for the rest of the township and so is Bill, we can be the precedence on how townships can do this in the future."

Tap-in fee schedule

Township board of supervisors chairman Mark Beichner addressed Aaron's request from the previous month's meeting, when he asked officials to delay a tap-in fee schedule associated with the project.

The system's standard tap-in fee is $7,000, but residents who signed easements prior to Oct. 28 received a $4,000 discount and would receive an additional $500 discount if the fee is paid prior to Jan. 31.

Aaron had said in December since the project is under litigation, the current schedule should not hold until a judgement is determined.

"We had a good, serious discussion with our supervisors, our engineer and our solicitor all at the same time," said Beichner, who added the issue was deliberated at length more than once.

Beichner said the authority would not change the schedule. Two motions by the board relating to opening an interest bearing account for tap-in fee deposits and transferring tap fees already paid to the newly opened account were approved.

The easements and lawyers' fees

Aaron responded by saying he was disappointed in the supervisors' decision. He also questioned when property owners who were asked to sign easements as part of the project would be approached.

Beichner said the easements are coming, noting officials would be speaking separately with each individual landowner regarding their respective properties.

"We're going to do it by spring," said Beichner. "I feel certain of that."

According to township secretary Jacqui Blose, Aaron's is one of five properties without taps but have negotiated right of ways.

McCauley also requested the fees of both township legal counsel Joe Keebler and Mark Shaw of MacDonald, Illig, Jones and Britton, LLP, who has been hired to represent the township during the litigation.

Keebler said his own fees are between $150 and $175 on an hourly basis. He added residents are entitled to the total amount in a bill provided to the township, but sub-headings regarding how various amounts contribute to the total can be considered attorney-client privilege related information and thus unavailable.

According to Blose, the township had received one bill for $532 as of the meeting time. A previous email correspondence also indicated Shaw charges $280 per hour for services.

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