The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

September 1, 2013

Why the Johnstown Redevelopment Authority is dumping millions into the region's sewage system

Randy Griffith

— By any measure, upgrading the region’s largest sewage system is expensive.

It is costing municipalities and the Johnstown Redevelopment Authority millions to replace lines and costing homeowners thousands to bring the plumbing into compliance.

Those following the work say the average property owners will pay around $4,000 to install a new connecting line to get it to pass the pressure test. It depends on the home, however, and bills such as Charlene Stanton’s $15,000 estimate have been reported, they say.

Stanton lives on See Street. Work is slated to begin this month in her Roxbury neighborhood. Meanwhile, work continues in the Hornerstown and Walnut Grove sections of the city, with Oakhurst, Old Conemaugh Borough and parts of Morrellville and Woodvale poised for construction in 2014. Nine more projects are lined up through 2021 to complete the city.

All are designed to eliminate stormwater from entering the Johnstown Regional Sewage treatment plant at Dornick Point.

Johnstown Redevelopment Authority owns Johnstown Regional Sewage and faces stiff fines if the overloads are not corrected.

The issue becomes more confusing because homeowners are getting two bills for their sewage.

The Johnstown Regional Sewage bill covers the actual treatment costs from the Dornick Point plant and pays for large interceptor lines connecting the network of municipal sewer systems. The second bill covers the sewer lines along streets throughout the communities.

Johnstown Regional’s bills have gone up to pay for its part in addressing the overloads, and municipalities already working on projects have raised their bills enough to pay back loans required for the work. Most of these have been low-interest Pennsylvania Infrastructure and Investment Authority loans.

But as financially distressed Johnstown, along with Brownstown, Ferndale, Dale and East Conemaugh boroughs have begun the costly fix, more affluent municipalities are still exploring options. And the clock is ticking.

While Westmont, Southmont and Lorain boroughs and Upper Yoder and Lower Yoder townships consider their options, the redevelopment authority faces a Jan. 1 deadline for a report to show the state how the problem will be solved. Its number crunchers are looking at communities with excess flows to develop a new billing system that could penalize those customers.

Customers in Dale Borough and the city of Johnstown are spending thousands to fix the problem, authority acting director Francis D’Ettorre said. It wouldn’t be fair to expect them to pay additional treatment costs for Westmont’s overflows.

The authority’s engineer, Steve Sewalk of the EADS‚ÄąGroup, said a flow meter on the interceptor coming out of Southmont Borough has measured 50 million gallons a day during heavy storms. The average dry-weather flow at Dornick Point is about 7 million gallons for the whole 21-municipality system.

And the meter measures flow downstream from an overflow dumping excess raw sewage into a local waterway to prevent damage to lines, Sewalk said.

Using Southmont as an example, D’Ettorre pointed out the redevelopment authority can’t force the borough to put in new sewer lines. It can only raise the sewage rates to cover the additional cost of treatment or storage. Southmont’s peak flows have been 10 times the treatment capacity.

They could construct a storage tank similar to those Highland Sewer and Water Authority put in above Ohio Street to contain runoff and treat it more gradually.

D’Ettorre estimates a Southmont tank would cost $58 million and require five to seven acres of land in the borough.

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