Reactions mixed on public sewer expansion

About 50 residents, mingled with some business owners, showed up at the West Branch Regional Authority’s public meeting to help determine the need for additional sewer infrastructure along the routes 15/54 corridor.

The authority held the meeting at the former West Pharmaceutical site to discuss the projected costs and alternatives for providing service, and to take public comment from residents and businesses.

The reaction was mixed. Several senior citizens on fixed incomes expressed concern over being able to afford the one-time tap-in fee of $4,768, which is required of anyone who wants to connect or is required to connect to the public sewer system, said authority Executive Director Eric Moore. That would be on top of the monthly $55 rate.

If the sewer line comes within 150 feet of a residence, state law requires that residence to connect to the public sewer, Moore said.

Moore assured the residents if it’s determined the need and interest is great enough, they may be eligible for income-based grant assistance.

While some argued it would create too heavy a financial burden, others, business owners, contended the area can’t grow economically until public sewer is extended, and it’s necessary to create jobs.

The $4.5 million project is contingent upon residential and commercial need and interest – or disinterest – in economic development, and grants. The authority is in the planning stage.

“It’s a tricky financial proposition; we have to make sure it’s really needed,” Moore said.

If the problem is great enough, the state Department of Environmental Protection may force the authority’s hand and do it regardless of public desire or funding, he said, but that is not as likely to happen.

Moore encouraged those concerned to send letters expressing their opinion and need to PO Box 428, Muncy, Pa. 17756.

The issue came to light because of a law that requires the authority to examine outside of their current service area to those who don’t have public sewer “to see if there are problems that need to be addressed by having a public sewer put in,” Moore said. When the authority did random sampling and inspections of about 15 percent of dwellings, they discovered there is a need due to some failing or faltering septic and holding systems.

“We did find fecal bacteria in some of the drinking water; not in many, but that’s the worst of the worse,” Moore said after the meeting.

The sewer problems along Route 15 aren’t new, he said, but now that the authority is replacing old, cracked clay pipes, getting public sewer out to those customers may now be an option.

If the project is needed and affordable, the collecting point would be near the West Pharmaceutical site, and would go 3/4 of a mile north from that point possibly to the salvage yard, near the 54/15 intersection.

Going south from that point, service may be extended as far as the Pennsylvania College of Technology campus there and the golf course, a total stretch of about 2 miles.

Some side streets also could get service, primarily Blind Road, Moore said.

It could be a two-phase approach, going south from Blind Road, as existing users there would “anchor the system,” he said. If there is additional funding, the authority could extend service north.

In the first phase, 18 residents are along the route, with two motels, a golf course, the college campus and West Pharmaceutical. Phase two would encompass about 50 homes, Moore said.