The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

December 17, 2013

Redevelopment authority denies mandating sewer pressure tests

Randy Griffith

JOHNSTOWN — Sewer connection pressure testing is not mandated by the Johnstown Redevelopment Authority, and its board members say they are tired of taking the blame.

The authority is under state mandate to reduce stormwater inflows overloading its Dornick Point sewage treatment plant or expand the plant to treat the additional flows.

That mandate includes 30 municipalities that own the sewage collection systems feeding the plant, Monsignor Raymond Balta, authority board chairman, explained at Tuesday’s meeting.

“The (Department of Environmental Protection) is taking the position that the infiltration has to be eliminated,” Balta said. “They don’t care how you do it.”

The redevelopment authority has taken the same position with the municipalities, Balta said.

Many communities are requiring pressure testing, which can create thousands in repairs for those whose systems fail.

“It is not actually mandated by us,” Balta said.

Authority member Brian Vuletich said elected municipal officials often mention the Johnstown Redevelopment Authority when enacting pressure test requirements.

“If you don’t want to be responsible for the decision, blame it on JRA,” Balta said.

Engineering companies overseeing the massive sewage upgrade often say pressure testing is the only sure way to solve the infiltration problems. Virtually all communities that first attempted to identify infiltration points with smoke and dye tests are now going back through the same neighborhoods and requiring pressure tests, they say.

Residents in boroughs and townships that don’t address the problem may be paying for their leaders’ inaction, Balta warned.

“We can treat (normal) flows with very little difficulty,” Balta said. “If we are going to have to make alterations or expansions to the plant for four or five municipalities which choose not to address the problem, they will bear that responsibility.”

Meters have been placed to measure sewage flows at many locations throughout the system. They can identify which municipalities are contributing to the overloads, Balta said.

If those overloads are not addressed, and the authority has to spend millions to expand its treatment plant, customers in those municipalities will see their sewer bills raised exponentially to cover the cost, authority solicitor William G. Barbin said.

“We are responsible in the end for everything that comes down the pipe,” Barbin said. “If these communities don’t comply, these customers are going to be hit with huge sewage bills.”

It would not be fair to raise everyone’s sewage bills because municipalities such as Brownstown, Ferndale and Dale boroughs have invested millions in system upgrades and required homeowners to complete the often-expensive residential fixes, Balta said.

Randy Griffith covers Johnstown Redevelopment Authority for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at griffer57.