WELLSBORO - The borough has received a $512,892 grant from the state Department of Environmental Protection to help offset costs associated with recent water filtration problems, according to state Rep. Matthew E. Baker, R-Wellsboro.
The money will be used to pay for the purchase of sand, equipment rental and local contractor fees to level sand in a re-sanding process on two filters at the Park Hill reservoir that were required by the state to lift a boil water advisory that was in effect from early October to early November, Baker said.
"On behalf of the borough council and the citizens of Wellsboro, we are so delighted and grateful to receive notice of this award and thank state Rep. Baker and DEP for realizing the seriousness of our water situation and responding in a way that can assist us most greatly," said Susan Keck, borough secretary-treasurer.
"To label this money as 'much-needed' would be an understatement," Baker said. "We often take for granted how reliant on clean water we are until it is not readily available, and the residents of Wellsboro were forced to take extra steps to obtain it for about 30 days."
The order went into effect Oct. 5, after the borough's municipal authority was issued a violation notice by the state DEP, because a Sept. 27 inspection found only 18 inches of sand over the gravel on filter No. 2 at the Park Hill Reservoir, which had been taken offline for maintenance. The state requirement is 30 inches.
On Oct. 8, the authority, along with council, went out for quotes for a $500,000 low-interest loan to purchase the rest of the sand needed to bring the level of sand on the two sand filters up to state regulations. Council already had approved $40,000 for sand.
On Oct. 15, the authority approved the $500,000 low-interest loan.
Borough and authority officials had sought a grant from the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority, also known as PennVEST, and have been in contact with both Baker and state Sen. Joseph B. Scarnati III, R-Brockway, about other grants to assist with the payback of the loan.
"The awarding of this money is welcome news to the Wellsboro community," Baker said. "The grant pays for the improvements to the water filtration system and allows the problem to be addressed in means other than passing along the cost in the form of a tax increase."
Keck said while taxes were a "separate animal" in that water and sewer rates still will have to hold their own, the grant will help alleviate any extra costs associated with the $500,000 loan, including $9,600 interest on the loan and the principal payments.
"But for us to learn that we will not have to find the money to pay back that $500,000 loan, that's just wonderful news," she said.
Council approved a 3 percent increase in both water and sewer rates and a 0.25-mill increase in real estate taxes Monday night. After that meeting, Keck said the 3 percent increase this year for water would bring in about $22,000 in revenue and would help pay for the $40,000 for sand.
Council also plans on increasing the water and sewer rates both by 3 percent in 2011 and 2012 to help with ongoing shortfalls, not related to the water boil situation.