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CMA may raise rates to cover fines and credits
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
By Jeff Corcino Staff Writer
Clearfield Municipal Authority sewerage customers could see rate increases as early as next year, said CMA manager Jeff Williams at yesterday's meeting.
Although rate increases to pay for the new wastewater treatment plant are at least three years down the road, the CMA might have to increase rates next year to pay for fines and credits.
According to CMA engineer Jim Balliet of Gwin, Dobson & Foreman of Altoona, the state Department of Environmental Protection officials have informed them that it will begin fining the CMA next year every time it for discharges raw sewage into the river.
The sewer lines of the CMA, Clearfield Borough and Lawrence Township continue to have issues with storm water entering into the system causing the system to overload during storm events. This forces the CMA to discharge sewage into the West Branch of the Susquehanna River to keep the sewage from backing up into homes and businesses.
Over the last several years, Clearfield Borough and the township have undertaken construction projects on its sanitary sewer systems to remove the storm water but the problem persists.
Balliet said both the township and the borough believe much of the storm water now entering their systems are from private residences who have illegally connected sump pumps, roof drains etc. to the sanitary system and this requires an ongoing enforcement program to correct the problem.
This fall, the DEP announced that it is changing the designation of Clearfield sanitary sewer system from a Combined System Overflow system to a Sanitary System Overflow and will begin fining the CMA for each time it discharges into the river.
However, at the request of the CMA, the DEP has decided to delay this decision until March to give the CMA, the borough and the township more time to conduct smoke testing to determine where the storm water is coming from, Balliet said
The smoke testing is to be completed in February and in March, the three municipalities are to submit their findings to the DEP and the DEP in turn is going to demand that the problem areas be corrected and shortly after the DEP will declare the system as a SSO and issue fines for each time the CMA discharges into the river.
Once the fines start, Balliet said DEP officials estimate they will be in the neighborhood of $330,000 a year.
Because many of the borough and the township's sanitary sewer lines are interconnected, it is currently impossible to determine how much storm water is coming from the township and how much from the borough, and Williams said customers in both municipalities would have to bear the cost of the fines.
However, he said there is one portion of the system where all the water comes from the township and borough residents would not be responsible for any fines in that portion of the system.
The CMA currently discharges sewage into the river at three CSO (combined sewer overflow) locations, Hyde, Lift Station No. 1 located behind CVS and at the wastewater treatment plant located east of town in the area of U.S. Route 322.
Williams said the Hyde CSO receives the most water volume; Lift Station No. 1 is second with the treatment plant receiving the least volume.
For Lift Station No. 1 and the treatment plant, the storm water comes from both the borough and the township, while all the storm water at the Hyde CSO comes from Lawrence Township.
Williams said the CMA will likely allocate the cost of the fines from the CSO's at Lift Station No. 1 and the treatment plant to customers in both the township and the borough, but said borough customers would not be charged for fines incurred from the Hyde CSO.
In addition, to the coming CSO fines, with the new Chesapeake Bay regulations limiting how much nitrogen and phosphorous the CMA can discharge into the river in affect, the CMA is forced to purchase credits on the open until the new wastewater treatment plant is completed.
This year the CMA had to spend roughly $200,000 per year on credits and the CMA might have to increase rates next year to pay for these costs.
The CMA is planning a project to construct a new wastewater treatment plant to replace its aging plant and upgrade some of its interceptor lines at a cost of $33 million.
The new plant would meet the new Chesapeake Bay discharge limits and would have a larger capacity to allow it to treat the storm water overflows at the plant instead of having the CMA discharge it into the river.
To pay for the plant under the best-case scenario for financing of the plant CMA estimates its customers would see their sewer bills increase by $18 per month. Under the worst case scenario customers would see rates go up $37 per month.
However, these rate increases would not go into affect until after the new plant is completed, which would be at least three years from now, according to Balliet.
Before the CMA can seek financing from the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority for the project, it first must get its Act 537 plan approved by both the township and the borough. The Clearfield Borough Council approved it on Thursday and Lawrence Township supervisors approved it last night.
In other business, Balliet said since 2005, the CMA's phosphorous discharges at the plant have been steadily increasing since 2005.
He said they suspect there is a factory in the area that is responsible for the increased phosphorous and said they are trying to pinpoint its location so the CMA could surcharge it for the extra phosphorous credits the CMA has to purchase because of it. He said they have it narrowed down to the area Clearfield Firemen's Commerce Park.
Phosphorous is commonly found in soaps and cleaning agents, Balliet said.
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