The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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June 7, 2014

Richland runoff repair: $4.2M

Township leaders weighing options

JOHNSTOWN — When Richland Township first decided to tackle township-wide stormwater runoff problems last year, supervisors said they recognized it would likely be a major undertaking.

Now it has an estimated price tag that reflects it: $4.2 million.

That’s the projected total the township’s engineers, The EADS Group, expect it will cost Richland to handle an estimated 63 projects – or trouble spots – where storm runoff is flooding neighborhood yards, roadsides and basements across much of the township’s 20 square miles, EADS engineer Ben Faas told supervisors Monday.

Both the township’s Public Works Department and EADS are still wading through the planning stages of the project. But supervisors were already starting to turn their attention toward paying for the undertaking, which is likely going to be phased into smaller projects over years, if not decades, the board has said.

“We’ve got a very large situation on our hands that could continue to grow,” Supervisor Bob Heffelfinger said. “We’re still exploring our options ... but we’re not going to be doing this project with money we’ve got sitting in the bank right now. We know that.”

He suggested the creation of a stormwater authority, and said perhaps monthly bills to pay for the undertaking might be one option. A dedicated tax could be another, Heffelfinger indicated, reiterating no decisions have been made.

The township has been looking into funding options.

Faas said he had a brief discussion with Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority officials in the past month about Richland’s chances of acquiring a low-interest loan.

The authority, known as PennVEST, generally supports projects geared toward water quality issues, “but they’re open to considering this ... specifically if we’re picking projects that have water quality components to them,” Faas said.

EADS is compiling a project list and, along with the township’s public works staff, is planning to rank the work as part of a report that will then be submitted to township supervisors for review and comment, Faas said.

EADS’ study follows a series of public workshops held at the township building last fall that gave neighborhoods in all corners of Richland a chance to air concerns. Residents poured into some of the sessions, venting about stormwater issues on Luray Avenue, Oakridge Drive and the Belmont area, among others.

It has continued since. On Monday, a handful of residents along or near Beechspring Street complained that their yards are regularly flooding after heavy storms.

One Beechspring resident, Jim Glass, said his yard has remained a soggy mess days after rainstorms end.

“I just cut the grass for the first time this year,” he said, while fellow residents complained about basement flooding.

Heffelfinger warned the residents group that some of their issues may be caused by recent, separate wastewater line upgrades that are being state mandated in the region. It’s just one more issue residents, like those in Johnstown, are dealing with, and runoff improvements probably won’t change those issues, he said.

“We’re compassionate to (these problems),” he said, noting it’s a reason the township is undertaking the stormwater runoff project. “Hopefully, this meeting will be packed in a positive sense when this board has to make a financial decision to make it happen.”

David Hurst is a reporter with The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on www.twitter.com/tddavidhurst.

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