The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

November 15, 2012

Patton water project draws no comments

Kathy Mellott

PATTON — The Susquehanna River Basin Commission on Thursday received no public comment on a request by a northern Cambria County community to begin withdrawing water from two recently drilled wells.

The lack of comment likely improves the chances that the needed approval by the multi-state oversight commission will come next month, allowing the Patton Municipal Authority to begin withdrawing water for its customers.

Approval would open the door for work to begin on transmission line construction over a space of two to three miles from the wells to town, all part of a $4 million system upgrade.

“We had really good substantiative comments, but we did not have any comments on those two Patton wells,” commission spokeswoman Susan Obleski said late Thursday.

The multistate commission met in Harrisburg to receive public comment on 35 water withdrawal projects.

Along with the Patton authority, a few other public water system applications were on the agenda, but the bulk of the projects involved water withdrawals for fracking and drilling in the Marcellus Shale bed of northeastern Pennsylvania counties.

The commission’s approval will not come too quickly for Glenn Bowman and other members of the Patton authority who are facing a push to replace an aging plant. Water now pulled from Chest Creek will be replaced by well water.

“It’s been a long, long drawn- out affair,” said Bowman, chairman of the Patton authority, speaking of the project on the drawing board about three years.

For a century, the community has been getting its municipal water directly from Chest Creek as it runs through the borough.  

It is pumped into a system of sand filter beds before being sent to customers in the borough and surrounding areas.

While the plant worked great for many years, the outdated facility – which was periodically improved – is in need of replacement, said Patton Mayor Steve Bakajza.

Some of the biggest drawbacks are that the level of Chest Creek must be constantly monitored, and when levels drop, use restrictions are implemented.

Additionally, the state Department of Environmental Protection has urged the authority to stop pulling water from the creek for a variety of reasons, including concern of potential contamination, Bakajza said.

“If our primary water source got polluted, we have no backup system, he said. “These wells give us a backup.”

A cost analysis of replacing the plant and developing a backup as opposed to drilling wells showed a difference of a couple million dollars, in favor of the wells and transmission line, the mayor said.

The authority already has spent more than $400,000 for construction of three wells. The quality of one of those wells is questionable.

It is a gamble, Bowman said, but the wells had to be drilled and tested before the commission would consider withdrawal requests.

The bulk of the project is being funded through a $4 million grant from the state’s H20Pa program, which will pay for construction of the transmission lines from the wells and complete the project.

Also being considered is a proposal to extend the line to Hastings, located about three miles away.

Joe Taranto, vice chairman of the Hastings Municipal Water Authority, said the community now gets its water from an old contaminated mine that closed in the 1920s. DEP has named the source as Mine Spring, water Taranto said is plentiful and good quality.

Negotiations between the two communities continue, Bakajza said.

The project for customers of the Patton system is not expected to increase rates, now at $80 per month for combined water and sewer with a 4,000-gallon base rate for residential customers, Bowman said.

Action on the authority’s request by the river commission is expected come Dec. 14. If all goes as planned, Bowman said, the new system should be in operation within a year.

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