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December 25, 2013

Top 10 of 2013 | Sewer testing issue caused big stink

The Tribune-Democrat is counting down the top stories of 2013, as determined by voting by newsroom employees. One story will appear each day in print and e-editions between now and the end of the year. Readers can vote for their choice for the top story at www.tribdem.com/beststories.

A previously established requirement for all Johnstown property owners to have their sewer lines pressure tested became a controversial issue in 2013

In 2010, City Council agreed to remove all sanitary overflows from its system by Dec. 31, 2022, as mandated by a consent agreement with the state’s Department of Environmental Protection.

Johnstown adopted a two-prong approach to addressing the problem. Council decided to replace all of the municipality’s main lines.

It also passed a law, requiring all private lines to withstand a pressure test by holding 5 pounds of air per square inch for 15 minutes.

Most older systems, especially those with terra cotta pipes, will not pass the test, thus requiring property owners to make repairs. The city’s engineering firm, The EADS Group, estimates costs to be between $2,500 and $3,000 per property. Some bills over $10,000 have been reported. Prices vary depending on the amount of excavation, pipe installation and remodeling work needed.

“Replacing the main lines and public laterals does not remove enough inflow and infiltration to meet the (Johnstown Redevelopment Authority) plant capacity and also the DEP design criteria,” said Steve Sewalk from EADS. “Replacing mainlines and private laterals up to the foundation does not remove enough (inflow and infiltration) to get us there either. Replacing all of the mains and the private laterals with pressure testing gets us to where the system needs to be.”

The DEP did not require pressure testing. It only mandated smoke and/or dye testing, which is usually cheaper, but less accurate. It is likely a lot of properties that fail a pressure test could pass a smoke or dye test.

“We didn’t negotiate (pressure testing) and we didn’t mandate it, but we support what they’re doing,” said John Poister, a DEP community relations coordinator. “They made a very strong case to us that this will do the trick and alleviate the overflow problem there.”

Some residents objected to the pressure testing mandate, sending a petition and letters to City Council. Critics expressed concern about the cost.

“It’s placing a huge financial burden on homeowners,” said Charlene Stanton, a Sell Street resident and outspoken opponent of the plan. “Where does the city expect people to get the money?”

Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Dave_Sutor.

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