A major change might soon be made to Johnstown’s sewer project consent order with the state Department of Environmental Protection.
The agreement requires the municipality to eliminate all sanitary sewer overflows from its system by Dec. 31, 2022 or face the possibility of huge fines.
DEP’s document only mentions smoke and/or dye testing.
However, council believed those methods were inadequate.
The board passed an ordinance mandating that all properties pass a more rigorous air pressure test.
The law became controversial since few sewer systems will pass a pressure test without first undergoing costly repair work.
Now, the city and DEP are considering amending the consent order.
The proposed change would give property owners the option of either using a pressure testing method or having lines inspected with a camera.
“We really hope to give the citizens an option as far as the sewage testing goes,” Mayor Frank Janakovic said following a workshop on Tuesday.
“There’s been a lot of protesting against the pressure testing, so we’re also looking at the possibility of camera testing, with specifics on that, so residents will have an opportunity to choose between those two, but knowing the camera testing isn’t 100 percent foolproof and it may have to be something they have to go back and correct at a later time. But that then would be the choice of the homeowner.”
Failing a pressure test requires a property owner to replace an entire system.
A camera test will identify specific defects in pipes that could be individually addressed.
“They both hopefully will accomplish the same goal at the end of the day by identifying issues within the line that need to be repaired in order for a particular connection to the new system to be validated as a viable connection,” Acting City Manager Carlos Gunby said.
The pressure test is more accurate.
“Pressure testing is an objective test; it’s either pass or fail,” said the city’s engineer, Steve Sewalk, from The EADS Group.
“The camera is a subjective test. You can’t always see all the defects in that process.”
City Council is working to amend the consent order after a local group successfully petitioned to force the board to vote on getting rid of the pressure-test ordinance.
All seven council members – Janakovic, William Gentile, Marie Mock, Pete Vizza, David Vitovich, Nunzio Johncola and Frederick Mickel – voted to repeal the pressure-test mandate in a first read during a June meeting. Since then, council, EADS and other officials have been in contact with the DEP to clarify options.
“As I understand it, the powers that be, the people that do this, say that to keep the integrity of the project intact, the pressure test is a foolproof method,” Vizza, the deputy mayor, said.
“I don’t know now that you can get around the pressure test without compromising the project.”
Council tentatively plans to vote July 23 on the consent agreement amendment.
This month’s meeting was originally scheduled for July 9, but council moved it in order to give itself and DEP officials more time to work out the language and legal details.
“The fact that I think DEP is recognizing that as these projects go along that the costs that are incurred by individuals is a fairly significant cost,” Gunby said.
“As well as the potential fact that we are an Act 47 (distressed) community has played
– I’m speculating – has played a role in DEP’s willingness to give us an additional option, which is the camera televising.”
Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at @Dave_Sutor.