Clearfield Borough Looks to Cut Sewer Infiltration, Impose Fines

CLEARFIELD – Clearfield Borough Council discussed the possibility of imposing fines against residents who fail to comply with the removal of storm water from its sanitary sewer system after being “forewarned” that they’d be asked to approve an Act 537 sewage facilities plan next week that calls for the replacement of the current sewage treatment plant.

Borough engineer Todd Banks of Stiffler McGraw & Associates couldn’t be present for Thursday night’s Public Works Committee meeting. However, he plans to detail the Act 537 plan next week. In addition, he’ll ask council to adopt a resolution for the Act 537 plan for the Clearfield Municipal Authority (CMA), said Borough Operators Manager Leslie Stott.

Stott said she’d met with Banks and has the Act 537 plan, and it’s available for anyone who would like to review it before next week. She said the plan calls for a new sewage treatment plant, which would fix the aging plant and leave the current plant from 1954. She said it would also reduce nitrate and phosphorus so that the CMA doesn’t have to purchase nutrient credits, as well as resolve the majority of the other issues that it’s experiencing as a total system.

She said there would be obvious costs for people to bear and costs Clearfield would have to bear in credits and fines if the sewage system infiltration continues. She said once the borough accepts the 537 plan, the township must do the same. She said the CMA is hoping to receive as much grant funding as possible to help reduce the cost of the new plant. She said there were very limited alternatives to not developing a new plant.

According to Stott, the new plant will be modeled after the Westerly Sewer Treatment Plant in Altoona, which she said has been extremely successful. She said CMA manager Jeff Williams and his engineers have met with the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which had fines prepared. If Clearfield hadn’t been so aggressive and discovered problems during smoke testing, she said it could have resulted in a fine for several hundreds of thousands of dollars for Combined System Overflows (CSO).

However, she said the DEP has now classified Clearfield as a Sanitary System Overflow (SSO) and not a CSO. She said they, as a whole community, are going to start receiving fines because of issues with its sewage infiltration system. She said the borough has probably smoke tested about 50 percent of its sewer lines and discovered a significant amount of downspouts that weren’t removed from the system.

She said with winter approaching, they cannot initiate any removal of the downspouts. She said they’ve been directed to continue the smoke testing and to revisit the issue in February or March. Council member Tim Winters said hopefully, they can show enough progress to avoid the costly fines to which Stott said that was Williams’ goal.

Council member Jim Kling said he’s disturbed because this has been an ongoing project for approximately seven years. He said that the borough, Lawrence Township and the CMA had been advised that this was forthcoming. He said it appears that some people just sit around until the point where it’s going to cost Clearfield extra money.

“It provokes me that we, in Clearfield Borough, have spent over $25 million to make the repairs for our residents to keep the cost down,” said Kling. “But yet our adjourning municipality that flows all its water through our system . . . is just now starting to realize that DEP meant business.

“And, I do not understand why the people of Clearfield Borough are going to be surcharged again to pay for the infiltration that has been allowed to come through our system from Lawrence Township, which hasn’t had any pressure from anybody to get it done until this past year.”

Stott said the CMA has been applying pressure and with the smoke testing, they’ve found a considerable amount of sewer infiltration issues. She said she wasn’t completely defending the township, but the borough residents have not helped the situation.

She said when residents learned the borough would be smoke testing, they “pulled everything out.” Since then she said it appears many have reinstalled their downspouts. Kling then asked Stott about the borough’s intentions for addressing these violations. She said residents will have to re-correct the issue and comply with re-inspections.

Stott said residents would have to comply with more than one re-inspection, because they can re-connect their downspouts after one. She said the residents need to help themselves, too, as it is amazing how much water can come off a roof and then peak the plant. Kling said the borough does have ordinances that forbid this to which Stott agreed.

However, Stott said the borough must first locate the residents who are committing the violations and notify them before they can be fined. When asked by Kling, she said the borough hasn’t notified those found in violation during this round of smoke testing. Kling then asked about how much time residents are given to correct the violations to which Stott said they had 30 days the last time.

When asked by Kling, she indicated the borough had planned on waiting until all the smoke testing had been completed before notifying the residents who were found in violation. Kling said these people are in violation and if the borough waits, smoke testing might not be completed until spring.

Council member Richard Stewart Jr. concurred with Kling. He said if people are known to be in violation from the first time and re-connected the borough shouldn’t be waiting to notify them. Kling said it would be one thing if the residents, borough or the contractors missed it during the process. However, he said if people are deliberately re-installing an illegal hook-up after being made aware, “they’re guilty.”

Stott said the borough would immediately begin the notification process.

Winters noted that the township had instituted an ordinance that poses fines against residents who are found in violation and who then fail to correct their sewage infiltration problem. He asked if the borough had anything similar so far as a penalty phase. Kling said there is an ordinance, but he wasn’t able to quote it.

At that point, council member Patricia Kavelak said that DEP had noted one municipality that had an interesting approach to remedying the exact situation. She said the municipality assessed the penalty to everyone after which individuals had to sign up for inspections. Once they proved they weren’t in violation, the penalty was removed. She said anyone who didn’t prove their compliance obviously paid the price.

Stott said the borough was halfway through the inspection process. But Kavelak said the previous scenario would make it easier on the borough. She said they wouldn’t have to “go out and find” the residents who are using illegal downspouts, because residents would have to prove to them that they were in compliance.

Kling said residents should be given a reasonable timeframe to correct the problem. And, if it’s not corrected within that timeframe, they get fined. Stott said she didn’t disagree.

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