No End in Sight for Controversy Surrounding Washington Township Sewage Issue
(PICTURED: Washington Township Supervisors Board meeting on Thursday, December 12.)
Washington Township currently has 123 customers and is proposing sewer extensions for around 40 more in sections of State Route 208 and Dempseytown Road.
The Department of Environmental Protection issued a consent decree to replace its failing 2012 sewage plant with an upgraded plant.
Because of timing, the original construction was financed through a PENNVEST loan as opposed to a grant. The Authority is now facing a similar situation with another major project, the cost of which some residents believe could significantly increase fees for current residents.
Joseph Keebler, solicitor for Washington Township, told exploreClarion.com the issues surrounding the proposed plan probably won’t be resolved any time soon.
“It’s going to be a long project,” Keebler said.
“They’ve applied for grants and financing but haven’t heard from state about that yet.”
Keebler noted there are also several appeals pending through the state Environmental Hearing Board.
“There may be more litigation with regard to the issue, and that litigation takes time.”
Keebler himself became the center of additional controversy following the November Washington Township Board of Supervisors meeting, when he made a statement that the supervisors didn’t give “consent” to having the meeting recorded, according to local resident Kevin McCauley.
McCauley, who has been involved in the opposition to the extension plan, had a major problem with that, as did some others in attendance.
“It’s a major Sunshine Law issue,” McCauley noted.
The Sunshine Act gives members of the public the right to video or audio record public meetings. It does allow agencies to issue “reasonable rules” concerning the use of recording devices in order to avoid any disruptions. However, such rules cannot be used to attempt to prevent a member of the public from recording a meeting.
ExploreClarion.com reached out to the Marienville-based State Police and the Clarion County District Attorney’s office to see if any legal action based on the possible Sunshine Act violation may be taken, but no answers were forthcoming.
The issue came up again at the meeting on Thursday, December 12, when Keebler made a statement noting “with regard to recording, and I know there’s been a big issue about this, there’s not going to be any attempt to restrict anybody from recording as long as they’re not disruptive.”
Keebler also noted that while everyone who wants to speak at a supervisor’s meeting will be given the chance to speak during the public comments segment of the meeting, because of the nature of the ongoing litigation, he and the supervisors would not be answering questions regarding the sewage issue.
Among the local residents, McCauley has stepped forward as a leading voice in the opposition against the extension plan, having organized meetings of residents to discuss the issue, and continually stepping forward to voice their concerns at the board of supervisors meetings.
“I am basically the representative of the residents of the township with this,” McCauley explained.
“Our bills are already outrageous. They spent millions on a sewage plant, without enough people to pay for it, and now we’re trying to stop them from borrowing another 1.6 million for an extension with even less homes on it.”
McCauley said if the extension goes through, the cost of a resident’s base sewage, not including usage, will increase to over $120 per month, with most households seeing sewage bills well over $300 per month.
“We’re talking about a rural area, where people are sitting on two or three acres of land with Amish families next door using an outhouse, but we’re worried about pumping our sewage miles down the road.”
However, those figures were disputed by Supervisor Eric Bauer, who told ExploreClarion.com the prices will never be that high.
“We would never do that to the community,” Bauer said.
Bauer noted they don’t have estimates available yet, but would turn down any loan that required payments they considered too high for the residents.
McCauley has also called out the EADS Engineering Group because of their role with the original plant and pushing out the extension project.
“I believe they (the EADS Engineering Group) took the township for a ride, and I think they should be investigated.”
However, one thing he did agree with Keebler on was that there is no end in site at the moment.
“We’re in litigation. There have been appeals filed and turned over to the Environmental Hearing Board. Now, it’s basically lawyers talking to lawyers.”
The pending litigation also came up again at the most recent board of supervisors meeting on December 12, when local resident Bill Aaron made a request to the supervisors to consider postponing the deadline for the residents set to be on the extension to pay their tapping fee with a discount until the issue was resolved.
“Why would you want to collect money, $2,500, in escrow, before you even know that you’re going to have this go through?” Aaron asked.
“My request would be between now and the January meeting, before the 31, you would make a decision on that, and you would possibly postpone that date, so we don’t have to pay that until we’re sure that we’re going to have to pay it.”
exploreClarion.com spoke to Aaron about the issue following the meeting.
“With all this litigation, I can’t see why would they want to collect my money and hold onto it before they even know if this is going to go through. I mean, we’ve been fighting hard. We’ve got lawyers hired, the whole deal to try to postpone or do away with this whole project.
“The majority of the people (on the extension) are against this. We don’t want it, and we’re litigating against them on this. They obviously are concerned because they’ve hired two lawyers to fight against us, so why do they want to collect our money now? Why can’t they wait until they see if it’s going to happen before they make all these people dig into their savings to pay for tapping fees?”
Residents hope to get more answers at the next meeting, which is scheduled for Thursday, January 9.
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