Plant Upgrade Forces Hike In Sewer Rates
While acknowledging that current economic conditions make a rate increase difficult to swallow, the McConnellsburg Sewerage Authority is finalizing plans for an upgrade to the local plant that will force rates to go up by $10 per month in order to finance it.
According to plant manager Craig Strait, work on the $5.4 million upgrade to the existing plant south of McConnellsburg should begin shortly after the new year.
Strait said the authority has been forced to make the upgrade in order to be in compliance with new laws and regulations that mandate a reduction in nitrogen and phosphorous (nutrients) flowing into the Chesapeake Bay.
Pennsylvania, along with six other states in the Bay region, including Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Delaware, New York and the District of Columbia, is mandated to reduce the flow of nutrients. Only 15 percent of the nutrients come from the plants and 85 percent comes from other sources. However, it is the sewerage authorities who have first been tapped to come into compliance by having caps put on the amount of nutrients that can be discharged. Once this phase has been accomplished, other entities responsible for the discharge will be scrutinized. Those entities include farms, forestland, golf courses and septic systems.
According to the local plant’s engineer, Ray Myers of CET Enw ill gineering Services in Huntingdon, the local plant is only one of 180 plants statewide that will feel the pinch of having to finance an upgrade to their plants. According to Myers, in 2005 the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) looked at the largest systems in the state and broke them down into 180 individual plants with 60 classified as largest, 60 middle-sized and 60 of the smallest. Plants were mandated to upgrade with the largest ones first, followed by medium and then by smallest. McConnellsburg is classified among the smallest. There are other smaller plants in the state, such as the others in Fulton County, that were not mandated to upgrade because of their size. All 180 plants were given until May 2012 to complete their upgrades and come into compliance.
Both Myers and Strait said that customer rates will increase from $30 per month to $40 per month beginning in January 2011. Customers will not see this reflected on their bills until April when billing is received for January, February and March. Quarterly bills for single dwellings that now total $90 will go to $120. It is the first rate increase in five years, according to Strait, and he said the rate will be reviewed again in five years. The authority currently has approximately 1,600 customers.
Strait said and Myers agreed that even with the increase, rates will still be lower than others nearby. In a report released by the governor, they said it was noted that reasonable and sustainable rates would be those that do not exceed 1.5 percent of median household income. In 2008, that was $43,314, indicating that anything less than about $650 per year could be considered reasonable. The new rates for a single dwelling would put the annual cost at $480.
In spite of the tough economic times, Myers said if there is any good news, it is that loans are cheaper now and bids came in lower. The original estimate for the upgrade had been $7 million, but actual bids were for $5.4 million. The upgrade will be paid for by using reserves and by borrowing $3 million at a fixed interest rate of 2.69 percent for the first 10 years of the loan.
Myers said that when the five-person authority looked at what would be required, they said they wanted a plant that would meet the requirements for the area that includes the borough of McConnellsburg and portions of Ayr and Todd townships for the next 20 years. “We are spending money wisely,” Strait said.
The plant was built in 1968 and then had a major upgrade in 1995. After the 2011 upgrade, physically, the plant will still look much the same. A new lift station will replace the old one, and an 80-foot-by-80 foot composting building will also be built. That building will allow the plant to mix sludge with wood chips and produce a Class A sludge that can be spread on farmland, gardens, etc., without a permit. The plant currently produces a Class B sludge that requires permitting to spread, and Myers said that eventually spreading of the Class B sludge will likely not be permitted.
In the meantime, bids have been awarded for the project, and contractors have one year to complete it. The authority received 11 bids for the general contracting job and six bids for the electrical work.
The general contractor bid was awarded to Galway Bay of Mt. Braddock, Pa., for a total of $3.43 million. The electrical contract was awarded to B&B Design of Orbisonia for $372,000. An additional $1.4 million will be spent for equipment, engineering costs and land acquisition.
Authority members include three members from the borough appointed by Borough Council and one member each from Ayr and Todd townships and appointed by the individual township supervisors. Current members include Jack Fields (Todd), David Hoover II (Ayr) and borough members Ken Morton, Kirk Cover and Gene Headley.