Starting from scratch

TANNER MONDOK | Herald fileConstruction workers dig along Wansack Road last summer while doing sewer work in Shenango Township.

PERRY TOWNSHIP – As owner of Camp Perry, one of Perry Township's largest private businesses, Kishan Patel is interested in how a planned sewer project will affect the convenience store.

"Our main concern would just be the impact," said Patel, who bought the store last year, "We're a small business, we're in a small community. We love the community."

The Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority, also known as PennVEST, awarded Perry Township a $3.95 million grant, which will cover almost all of a planned $4.4 million project to set up a sewer system where none existed before. The funds will are sorely needed, said township Supervisor Gary King.

“It’s like we hit the lottery,’’ he said. “This is super good news.’’

King credited the township's state legislative representatives — Sen. Michele Brooks, R-50, Jamestown, and state Rep. Tim Bonner, R-8, Grove City — township engineer Tom Thompson and the PennVEST board for their support.

Store owner of Camp Perry expresses how he feels about the new sewer construction.

All of Perry Township's residents have on-lot sewer systems, mostly in the form of septic tanks. King said the sewer project is the result of a mandate from the Department of Environmental Protection.

The DEP has been requiring municipalities to expand sewer service in areas with high on-lot sewer system failure rates. Shenango Township, in southwestern Mercer County, began work last year on an $18 million sewer project that will expand sewer service with 17 miles of new line.

As with Perry Township, Shenango's sewer project was a DEP mandate, Shenango Township Supervisor Tom Hubert said before work began. 

By spring, the Shenango Township Municipal Authority could begin overseeing the connection of residents to the expanded system.

While the environmental agency's orders to expand — or as in Perry Township's case, create — sewer treatment systems is controversial, particularly because of the cost to connect homes to the new lines, which can run into the thousands of dollars, there is some justification for the push.

A single on-lot system failure can contaminate surface and underground water. And Perry Township has a whole lot more than a single failure.

PennVEST reported in its grant announcement a failure rate of 86 percent of the on-lot septic systems in the part of Perry Township targeted in the project.

With a population of 1,471 in the 2010 U.S. Census, that may sound like a more than generous grant for Perry Township, which lies in northeastern Mercer County, bisected by U.S. Route 19. But this isn’t a case where the community is extending an existing system.

“We have no sewer system now,’’ King said. “Everything will have to be built from scratch.’’

Under a plan approved by DEP, crews will install a little more than 8 miles of sewer lines, which will extend to the Hadley and Camp Perry areas. That’s where the largest number of septic tank failures exist, PennVEST said.

This has been an agonizingly long project.

“I have records here going back to 2013 about this, and I know it was being discussed way before that,'' King said. "I don't know why it took this long. It's just the way things work.''

The township submitted its sewer plans to PennVEST a year or so ago. Supervisors rejected the first financial offer from the agency because it wasn’t nearly good enough, King said, adding he couldn't immediately remember the figure. But the real target was to set monthly residential sewer bills around $56.

“We have a lot of fixed-income retirees who couldn’t afford to pay much more than that,’’ King said. “We think with the grant PennVEST gave us, we can keep the monthly cost to around that amount.’’

Supervisors have already approved contracts for the project, which is expected to begin in early spring. King said a completion date hasn't been set yet.

Hook-in fees for customers, numbering around 132, are expected to run about $3,000, King said, adding he is trying to find low-interest loans customers could get to finance that expense.

Affected Shenango Township residents already are eligible for the program.

The township is seeking a $500,000 loan to finance the project's remaining expense, which shouldn't be a problem, he added.

Perry Township's sewage treatment plant will be built behind the municipal building on Fredonia Road. 

"We didn't want to take somebody's land by eminent domain,'' King said. "So that's why we bought the land behind the township building.''

Although improving the environment is the project’s top priority, the township is looking to take advantage of its economic potential — the sewer lines will pass a vacant field that could handle development, he said.

“We hope this will bring in more people and businesses,’’ King said. "These improvements promise to increase property values significantly. In fact, we already sold several properties because the buyers knew these improvements are coming. It means a great deal to us.”

Herald Digital Editor Janeé Avery contributed to this article.

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