The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


December 13, 2013

Sewer proposal pooh-poohed | Councilman's plan barely gets second look

JOHNSTOWN — Johnstown homeowners are angry about a costly – and possibly unnecessary – sewer upgrade that could cost them $10,000 or more for some properties.

They don’t want to hear updates on the problem. They want to hear solutions to it.

So, with all due respect to Councilwoman Marie Mock, who suggested at Wednesday’s City Council meeting that a semiannual newsletter be sent to residents in order to keep them abreast of the project, we think there are much more important matters to be dealt with right now.

The most pressing is whether or not the project, as currently planned, is necessary. We’ve heard from many homeowners who are worried that pressure testing will reveal that old terra cotta pipes that have linked them to the city sewer system for decades should be replaced, while the smoke and dye test that the state requires might not. Not only is pressure testing expensive, but the efforts to replace the line are even more so.

Some residents have been told that it will cost $10,000 or more to make their homes compliant.

That’s a scary thought for any of us. Most city residents don’t have $10,000 or $12,000 stuck under their mattress that they can pull out to pay for the upgrade.

And even if they did have that kind of money at their disposal, why should they be forced to part with it unless it’s absolutely necessary? The city should be doing everything it can to avoid making homeowners upgrade, unless there is no other option.

At this point, we’re not sure that’s the case. On Wednesday night, council barely gave notice to an option from Councilman Joseph Taranto that we’d like to hear more about. Earlier this week, Taranto pitched an idea that he believes can help the city eliminate all overflows by Dec. 31, 2022, as it is mandated to do by a consent agreement with the state’s Department of Environmental Protection.

Taranto’s option would alleviate financial burden that homeowners are now facing.

He wants to keep the pressure testing mandate in place but soften the regulations by eliminating the threat of fines and punishments for noncompliance. His plan calls for a review of flow studies in 2018 that would determine if the flow reduction is sufficient. If so, the pressure testing would stop. If the standards were not met, then the city could enforce the pressure test mandate and require those homes that did not pass to be upgraded.

His plan would give every resident the same start date, likely in 2018, instead of requiring the work in a particular neighborhood to be done within a year of the city installing a main line in that area.

Taranto has been working to assist those in need of upgrading, but he also suggested that, should his plan work, he would look to refund those who have already had work done.

Are there problems with Taranto’s plan? Quite possibly, yes. Moving the deadline for all residents to 2018 could make it difficult for the city to have all of the connections made by the 2022 deadline. And Mock raised concerns about how the refund process would be handled.

Those are valid questions.

Unfortunately, they weren’t raised on Wednesday night’s meeting due to a procedural issue. Because Taranto, who was just appointed to council this year, did not write it as an ordinance, his resolution was quickly tabled. Once rewritten, council can discuss it.

Taranto’s alternative is the best option that we’ve heard so far and we want to learn more about it. And not just in a newsletter. We urge council to take a serious look at the proposal as soon as possible.

Text Only | Photo Reprints

What is the biggest key to reducing gun violence in Johnstown?

Tackling the area's drug problem.
Controlling folks moving into city housing.
Monitoring folks in treatment centers and halfway houses.
Tougher sentencing by the court system.
More police on the streets.

     View Results
Order Photos

Photo Slideshow

House Ads