JOHNSTOWN, Pennsylvania – Only one property owned by the City of Johnstown has had the work done to comply with the ongoing sewer cleanup project across the region.
The Berkley Hills golf course in Upper Yoder Township was certified in November 2020, after construction that cost $7,500, according to city records obtained through a right-to-know request by The Tribune. -Democrat.
No work has been started on city-owned properties actually in Johnstown – Ash Street Fire Station, Fairfield Avenue Fire Station, Roxbury Park, Public Works Garage, Public Works Storage, Intermodal Transportation Center, Sargent Stadium at the Point, City Hall, Main Street Parking Garage, Public Safety Building, and 722 Barclay Street, a home owned to the city for burn rehabilitation purposes.
All of these properties must have lateral lines that pass pressure tests as part of a project to reduce citywide flows to less than 625 gallons per day per equivalent dwelling by December 31, 2023 , pursuant to the terms of a consent order from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
“We’re really still in the early stages, a bit behind here, in terms of realizing these properties,” said public works director Jared Campagna. “We don’t have an actual schedule yet, but we’re working on getting one.”
New city manager Ethan Imhoff described the sewer project as “a top priority”.
“We are moving forward here to bring these properties into compliance,” Imhoff said.
“There was no plan”
Campagna said he had been working on the project for about two months.
“To my knowledge, there was no plan before,” he said.
Regarding future work, Campagna said: “In terms of time, it will take, I would say, months or even a year-long process to bring all of these properties into compliance. … I think the main issue here is sort of figuring out where all these lines go on initial inspections and getting the design work done. It will take most of the time. In fact, the realization of the project in terms of construction will relatively not take so much time. »
Chief Financial Officer Bob Ritter estimated that the work will cost $250,000 from the city’s capital fund, although the amount “may change depending on the discovery of unusual issues.”
The Johnstown Capital Fund received a cash injection when the city sold its sewage system to the Greater Johnstown Water Authority in 2020, bringing in funds that were previously unavailable.
Compared to the city, the Johnstown Housing Authority completed work on all of its properties from 2015 to 2020, spending $3.2 million in capital funds, according to information provided by acting chief executive Michael Alberts.
JHA made its upgrades when owners, including businesses and residents, needed to replace plumbing, which often required digging out basements and first floors. The city council changed the law in mid-2020 to allow trenchless methods, such as pipe slipping and bursting.
“Any type of trenchless work, such as slip surfacing, would have likely saved us a lot of time and money, and been far less inconvenient for our residents,” Alberts said.
“For our buildings without basements, like some of our skyscrapers for elderly and disabled families, we had to dig the sewer pipes up to the first floor. This meant digging up the ground in lobbies, hallways, in front of elevators, etc. This was a significant disadvantage for these populations.
Alberts said that, in the home communities, “the most affected residents were those in the handicapped accessible units in Solomon (Homes) and Coopersdale (Homes), as these are ‘basement’ units and residents had to be deprived of access to their own bathroom for a day or more.
‘Pay their surcharge’
Johnstown entered into a consent order with the DEP in 2010. The sale of the sewer system transferred responsibility for the consent order from the municipality to the GJWA. But the city still has to bring its properties into compliance with the pressure tests, like any other landlord.
So far, about 4,000 private properties — more than half of those in the city — have passed the pressure tests, according to GJWA chief executive Michael Kerr.
“I think it’s important for me, in my position, not to look at who owns the building,” Kerr said. “I have to focus on the account number and the status of the account. (City properties) are just one of 3,700 others that are not completed.
“They are being billed and paying their surcharge like any other accounts that have not completed the work, and they will continue to be overcharged until the work is complete. It’s discriminatory for me to focus on the owner of this building. I need to focus on the account number and the status of this account. »
The water authority could see a major increase in fines if the system is not fixed in time, although the GJWA could ask for another extension – as it has done once before, pushing the original deadline from December 31, 2022 to the end. next year.
On the public side, 20 sanitary sewer outfalls existed at the start of the project. Nine remain.
“We are fined $1,000 for sewer SSO activations when we have an overflow event,” Kerr said. “It will go up to $10,000 (once a month maximum) at the end of the overflow consent order. But there is also a stipulated penalty of $500 per day for flow rates over 625 (gallons per day). This is the penalty provided. Thus, the maximum is $120,000 per year for one fine and $182,500 (for the other).
“That’s what the maximum potential fine could be.”