The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Northumberland County

May 21, 2014

$13.8M PENNVEST loan for Norry may be revived

NORTHUMBERLAND — Northumberland borough might get that $13.8 million low-interest loan from PENNVEST yet.

PENNVEST stunned borough officials a few weeks ago by refusing to even consider the loan application because Northumberland failed to submit to PENNVEST what’s called a 537 feasibility study. That refusal put the entire wastewater treatment plant project on hold.

But all along, members of the borough’s sewer department — and its designated engineer, Brian Book, of Hazen and Sawyer, an environmental engineering firm based in State College — insisted they did everything right and had followed every one of the state Department of Environmental Protection’s instructions.

A meeting was called Wednesday to bring together PENNVEST, DEP officials, state Sen. John Gordner, R-27 of Berwick, state Rep. Lynda Schlegel Culver, R-108 of Sunbury, Book and members of the sewer committee to see if some kind of agreement — or at least an understanding — could be reached to get the project moving again.

“That was the purpose of the meeting,” Culver said afterward. “To lay it all out on the table and to see if we could get the ball rolling again, despite what seemed like some real misunderstandings.”

Book later recalled the early history of dealing with PENNVEST. “Our first application for funding in November 2013 was favorably received,” he said.

Everything was running smoothly, and that included engineering studies of treatment alternatives supplied in PENNVEST applications. “We were then told that our project was on PENNVEST’s award list for funding,” Book noted.

The next day, PENNVEST officials removed the borough from its funding list because of a Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission issue requiring an archaeological study to be completed before the agency would issue the floodway encroachment permit required to qualify for PENNVEST funding, he said. The borough eventually cleared the only hurdle in obtaining approval for PENNVEST funding by conducting three successive archaeological studies that turned up one arrowhead.

“We received PHMC clearance and then began to reapply for PENNVEST funding, believing all of our hurdles had been cleared,” said Adam Klock, chairman of the sewer department.

Fast forward to Wednesday’s meeting.

PENNVEST stood firm on the position that a second and more recent analysis of treatment alternative costs is required since the initial estimated cost of a new treatment facility was known to increase from $11.4 million to $13.8 million. That increase, Book said, was due to significant increases in higher flows and concrete costs from 2012 to 2013.

PENNVEST wanted to be sure that the funding requirements were being met, which stipulate that only the most economical option may be funded with PENNVEST grants or low-interest loans. The agency would like to see more recent costs calculated for the option of regionalizing with Sunbury.

To avoid conflicts of interest, the borough will hire an independent engineering company to conduct the cost analysis.

“At the end of the day,” Klock said, “the DEP and the borough believe this is a PENNVEST fundable project, but we need to conduct the study to receive final determination in July from PENNVEST.”

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