Sunday, August 8, 2010

Over The River and Through the Woods, To The Interceptor Project We Go

Unless you live along riverfront property, you may not have heard much, if anything, about something called the ‘Interceptor’. No, we’re not outfitting our police department with the snazzy new 2012 souped-up Ford Crown Vic street-legal hotrod of the same name (that I know of, anyway). This is something a little less glamorous.

Bottom line, it’s a sewer project. A complex, multi-municipal, three-part sewer project, and the third and final phase of the project is what has Lower Providence in a twist. Even though it's been in the works for almost ten years, and two of the three sections are either done or underway now, neighbors near the planned  'middle' portion just recently started showing up and protesting it, even though a number of them had been asked to sign releases for easements to facilitate construction some time ago, and many had already executed them. Why are they protesting now?

To make a fair assessment, I like to hear both sides of an issue and to date, the Lower Perkiomen Valley Regional Sewer Authority (LPVRSA) has been virtually silent in the press as to why they’ve chosen to complete this project in the way it's proposed. My understanding is that they don't intend to stay that way. I was able to get them to sit down and talk with me recently so I could try to understand and convey their position.

Begun almost ten years ago in 2001, LPVRSA, which comprises Lower Providence, Upper Providence, Skippack and Perkiomen Townships and the boroughs of Collegeville and Trappe, began plans to build a second sewer line (interceptor) in order to meet anticipated increases in the need for sewer capacity among the LPVRSA’s member communities. Increased need was attributed to known or expected growth in commercial and residential development, and expansions such as the prison in Eagleville, among the member communities.

The project, comprising three parts or segments (Upper, Lower and Middle) has moved along fairly quietly since 2001. The lower section has already been built, and the upper portion is being constructed now. That’s what all those pipes and excavation equipment that recently appeared at the Collegeville Inn’s parking lot are for – the section that runs from above Graterford down to the Collegeville Inn.

The middle and final section connecting the whole thing together – from the Collegeville Inn to the Arcola Road area near the former Proffit home (which LPVRSA now owns) - has been planned from the beginning. It’s going through the permitting process now, with construction expected to begin in 2013. Although our Township, across a couple of administrations, surely has known about this section and how it will run right through a portion of the riverbanks on the Lower Providence side (even though the existing section is on the Upper Providence side), there was never any fuss made about it until after the election last fall.

While affected residents now claim nobody told them that this project was coming, LPVRSA counters that all plans have been advertised over the years and there have been ample opportunities for public participation up to this point, from the time it was proposed right up through the permitting process, some of which is still underway. In 2005 property owners were notified about the impending archeological and engineering studies to be done in conjunction with permitting, and notified again in 2008 when application was being made for $16 million in H2O PA grant funding ($2.5 million of which was awarded and used toward construction costs on the upper portion of the project). I'm told occasionally someone would call and ask a few questions, but other than that, there was no public opposition to the project.

Originally, the plan was to build the new middle interceptor section alongside the existing aging interceptor pipes, which is located on the Upper Providence side of the river. However, according to LPVRSA, the notices the residents received as early as 2005 noted that the new interceptor might not be placed on the same side of the river as the existing one (translation: it might wind up on the LP side).

Starting in 2004, easements were obtained from adjacent residents for both the upper and lower portions via Declarations of Taking. In 2009 a different approach was taken in that LPVRSA decided to negotiate with property owners for easements to construct the middle portion. Certainly this could account for some recent opposition.

Also late last year, residents started showing up at township Board of Supervisors meetings and asking for help in fighting the project. They asked for alternatives; however, alternatives were looked at in 2003-2004 at Lower Providence's request. For various reasons – cost, practicality, physical limitations - all were rejected at that time.

For example, the residents say one alternative could be to place a pumping station on the Wyeth/Pfizer property in Upper Providence, instead of the middle interceptor, but there’s one small problem with that option – you don’t really need to pump water downhill. Gravity takes care of that nicely, for free. Earlier this year, Lower Providence again requested LPVRSA conduct another study to provide alternatives to the existing plan, and LPVRSA again complied. This second study, which was done at a cost of approximately $7500, was paid for by LPVRSA and  delivered to the Township August 2 for review and comment.

Among the five options looked at were the placement of a pumping station at 1st Avenue in Collegeville, a pump station at Yerkes Road in Upper Providence, a pumping station at Wyeth/Pfizer in Upper Providence, placing the interceptor along the trail on the Upper Providence side of the river, and the current plan to place the parallel middle interceptor on the Lower Providence side. An  open records request for a copy of the 2010 alternative study reveals that placement on the Lower Providence side is significantly less expensive than the other four options, with a minimum cost of $17.3 million and maximum of $19.3 million. The next least costly option was the Yerkes Road pump station, at an estimated minimum cost of $25 million and maximum of $28.9 million.

While you might say 'what's spending a little more money if it saves natural beauty and resources', the LPVRSA's first responsibility (as with any public utility) is to its ratepayers, and ratepayers want low cost. The first half of their mission statement is 'to anticipate the needs of the communities served and expand treament facilities when feasible; and ' to provide the best service to those municipalities and/or municipal authorities while maintaining the lowest possible rates through sound management, financial, and engineering practices".

LPVRSA maintains they determined that installing the new interceptor next to the existing one on the Upper Providence side isn't viable, partly because there isn’t enough room to put a new pipe in the same trench - the width of the right-of-way is simply not wide enough - and partly due to the steep slopes along that side of the river. To attempt to co-locate the pipes would require extensive excavation, disruption of the Perkiomen Trail,  incurring additional costs to purchase additional land, pay for the additional construction expenses (including the extensive excavation), and result in additional maintenance expenses.

It would also require construction of a permanent wall and a bypass wastewater pump during construction for 4-6 months, with 'significant risks' of a pump station outage during that time, resulting in a 'pollution event'.  Putting the middle portion on Lower Providence's side of the river was viewed by LPVRSA to be the least intrusive in terms of pollution and ecological disturbance, as well as being the most cost-effective for the ratepayers (that's any of us who connect to the public sewer system).

Lower Providence officials feel that the majority of the extra capacity that will be added will primarily benefit the other member communities. Lower Providence is largely built out, and with the economy putting most new commercial and residential construction at a standstill (and, frankly, a BOS that arguably seems to discourage any new development at all), that’s probably a reasonable viewpoint. LPVRSA admits that as things stand today, that is true. However, it won’t stay that way forever. Additional capacity will eventually be needed by Lower Providence, too, especially once the new prison addition comes online. Lower Providence officials dispute that, but it stands to reason that if you add more facilities and increase the population, the usage will rise. I have to believe that the opening of Skyview next to Arcola Middle School will also increase our usage.

In any event, the entire system needed to be upgraded to eliminate known weaknesses in the existing 40-year old system resulting in 'inflow and infiltration" - stream water leaking into, and sewage leaking out of, the existing interceptor pipes - so in that respect, it does benefit Lower Providence now, if for no other reason than to maintain the safety and low pollution levels of the river.

Naturally, the residents are upset that this work will disturb the natural beauty, animals, resources, vegetation and recreation in the area. Also, there is the possibility that there are archaeological finds that could be disturbed. LPVRSA says a review of digging in and disturbing such areas is a part of the permitting and review processes and is done in conjunction with the rest of the application. If there is any reason found by DEP not to continue with the project for archeological reasons, it will surface at that point in the process.

Now, I've spent some time with some of the residents who are fighting the interceptor along the creek, and they seem like sincere, nice folks. I sure wouldn’t want this in my backyard either, and they are doing what they feel they must. No matter what side of the river it ends up on, it's going to involve a certain amount of noise and disruption. It does seem strange that there is such  angst about it now, years after notice has been given, easements signed away, and the project has been under way for some time - after many of them already signed off on it.

For now, the pressure is off the Township and its residents. A technical mistake on the regional Act 537 plan LPVRSA submitted to the Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) - an aggregate of all the member communities' 537 plans, put into one plan at DEP's request - appears to LPVRSA to have been blown up into more than it really is – some say by Lower Providence officials – and has held up the issue of the permit for this section. While LPVRSA intends to file a corrected plan/application, the project can’t move forward until that’s resolved. Lower Providence's Board of Supervisors is doing its best to listen to the affected residents and advocate on their behalf, but at the end of the day there isn't a lot that is ultimately within the BOS' control.

In the meantime, I've learned, and sources have confirmed, that LPVRSA has filed a Right To Know request with Lower Providence for records which would presumably illuminate to what extent, if any, Lower Providence officials have stirred up resistance to undermine the long-established plans at the eleventh hour. Lower Providence Township has filed a reciprocal request for LPVRSA's records seeking documents pertaining to the development and analysis of the options, and how and why the option selected and submitted to DEP for review and approval was determined.

At the July LPVRSA meeting it was revealed that there had been recent, significant vandalism discovered at one of the meter pits located in Collegeville. Due to the nature of the damage and specific equipment required to produce it, it was felt that it was not random or committed by kids, but rather done by 'people who knew what they were doing'. A report was filed with the police and with Dept. of Homeland Security. Hopefully, it is unrelated to this controversy.

Where’s Rep. Mike Vereb when you need him? Now that he’s fresh off his success working out a compromise for Norristown School District and their stadium, perhaps he can work his magic here before it escalates any further. And I'm sure Sen. John Rafferty could be of help as well.  I think both sides have valid points and are willing to listen, and my hope is that they will be able to work together to mitigate the concerns of all parties without escalating it into yet another expensive legal battle. It's a classic case of 'the needs of the few versus the needs of the many". 


Wendy said...

Well written Janice and thank you for taking the time to research this from both perspecitves. Good Job!

Anonymous said...

I live in LP township and lack sewer. From the looks of the digging near the Collegeville Inn, the new intercept is going through my back yard. I have repeatably asked for the sewer plans but my requests have gone unanswered from the sewer plant. I have never been notified (nor have my neighbors) of the interceptor impacting me. Wish Lower Providence would provide sewer to it's residence before allowing other townships to send their refuse through the Perkiomen river valley.

The shadow said...

Saying that Lower Providence needs more sewer, because of the prison is a slap in the face to the residents.

We house the &^%$# for the rest of Montgomery County and we have to pay for it.


Anonymous said...

remember l.p did not say they need it for the eagleville prison, lpvrsa said it along with their other lies and truth twisting. eagleville prison might be expanding but it will still have the same amt. of toilets flushing! see how they twist the truth!

and if they said we down here knew about the sewer line since 2001 or even 2005 they are full of sss, we didn't know until the day we got condemnation paper served... on Christmas eve yet! They say they advertised<<< where at on the wall in the sewer plant bathroom??

Anonymous said...

Thank God for the Lower Providence Township Board of Supervisors, they certainly look out for their residents best interests. Too bad I live in Upper Providence where this board rides roughshod on its taxpayers. Anything goese over here, massive development everywhere is apporved with little or no discussion. I hear that your meetings are televised and residents are able to speak their mind, what a breath of fresh air!

Anonymous said...

i feel so sorry for the writer who wrote that they didn't even know the sewer was going right thru their yard. That is exactly lpvrsa's "MO" they try to keep everything quiet until they are at your back door and have started the digging and then it is too late. that is what they tried to do in the Arcola section but it didn't work this time and now their actually trying to blame the residents for not responding in time! If anyone knew that the sewer was suppose to go thru this little neighborhood and how BIG it is(did you see the size of those pipes and cranes>), 20ft down and 70 ft wide easement!they're would have been public outrage from the get go. The word is just starting to spread now and EVERYONE who hears is against it. Not when there is another way! They actually compare the little temporary inconvience of the bike trail being disrupted for a couple of months to 2 yrs orlonger of dynamite blasting our properties, condemning our land and condemning 2 houses that a little 86yr old man has lived in since 1945 and even had his brothers ashes spread in the Perki. when he passed away. Hoy Park will be used as an access way, the park will look just like the parking lot in Collegeville Inn, preventing boaters and fisherman from using the creek!In the blog the author said in the last sentence,"classic case of a few against many" well I believe the 'many' is the outraged residents of all the townships who love this area, the wildlife, historical and environmental conservatives and Lower Providence itself. And the few are the board at lpvrsa! I wonder , what is their true gain out of this anyway?

Anonymous said...

I agree with you , Thank God for L.P. They are not just for the wealthy or the great in numbers or the developers but for anyone who is on the side of right and in need. And you never know when you might be the one in need, so thankfully we have a board who cares lets make sure we keep it that way. Come to the meetings and ask for help if you need it, i guarantee they will listen and do the best they can within their power to help.

Anonymous said...

Not sure i agree with the posters painting LP as saints, there chairman esp. is good at telling people what they want to hear to keep getting elected and they may be misleading these people about how much they can really do. They can say alot of nice things and show up for the walk but don't really have to be accountble to do much about it.

Plus where were they when it all started? thats when they should have acted agaisnt it.

Anonymous said...

First want to thank Janice for creating this forum so we can communicate. What I understand is that if l.p does not want it they do not have to have it. Every township affected has to agree and vote on it. L.P is in the drivers seat. Thank God it is still America. The problem was, 'when it all started" back in 2001 (i just learned this myself) the official Act 537 sewage treatment plan that was submitted and voted on and agreed upon by l.p and ALL the other municapalites that are in the regional sewer authority was for the new sewer line to run parrallel to the exisitng line on the u.providence side. Then sometime after 2004 lpvrsa (not even sure if board members were aware of this or just Fieo the chairman and the engineer) decided for reasons beknown, maybe they thought, ahh it looks easier to do it on other side lets just take everyone's property over there and put it on that side,,, problem was they didn't do it legally, Act 537 plans has to be voted on by the board members, the chairman has no authority except whats given him by the board members(the 5 township reps). This is alot more then a technicality, its illegal! They condemned properties and took easements on an unapproved 537 plan. It was l.p township who discovered this deviation in 2009. Thank God or we might have never known. Some say why didn't l.p figure this out sooner, but why didn't all the other townships on the board figure it out either?
Nobobdy who loves the creek and its watershed wants this sewer on either side of the creek. Very very reasonable solution is a small pumpstation (only need about a 1/2 mile run) with the pipe either going along the road bypassing the bike trail or just going thru bike trail itself.(can do in off peak time like dec. thru april, that's what is being done in some parts of upper interceptor.) Or better yet everyone could just fix their I&I problem that you hear so much about and then just slip line or grout fix the existing pipe that's already there! Plenty of capacity and save literally millions of dollars! I think they want to spend the money, And when some say you need gravity line, its free maintence let me tell you gravity is not free expecially when they are running under the creek in 2 places with inverted siphons, if that blocks 10ft under the creek bed it could be a catastrophe!you have to put these huge giant fans in and sometimes you end up having to put a pumpstation in anyway if volumes get to low to push the sss along(like now with drought)So please don't believe everything you hear, they have already lied to us once,Question everything and then verify verify, in the end all this hard work will be worth it when you or your kids or your kids kids are swimming and boating down the creek and you see the Bald Eagle fly over. Thanks again Janice, keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

I think when the rest of the board members on lpvrsa find out what's been going on they are gonna agree with l.p. It might make history but i think its gonna happen :)

Anonymous said...

As much as LP wants to think this doesn’t benefit them, it does. As much as they don’t want to admit they’re not a part of a larger community, they are. This would benefit them even nore if they didn’t make it so tough to do business here. I’ve been hassled over a stupid sign when they can’t even be bothered to return my phone calls asking about that to begin with. They drive all the bigger businesses up to UP. No wonder we can’t fill the corporate center, no wonder all we have is banks and pharmacies, who would want to do business with us. Wherever it goes it needs sewer capacity. Kudos for the other twps for at least knowing where they’re bread is buttered.

Anonymous said...

Hey I thought this blog site is about the best township in Montgomery County?

Sticking to the subject of the sewer I can't speak for the township but I don't believe l.p is against the expanding of the sewer, I think they are arguing the location of it and the deception in the required planning.

L.P has put alot of money into Hoy Park with its boat ramp giving access to the creek and so has Fish and Boat Commission, not just for l.p resdients, but the whole community to enjoy. They don't card you at the parking lot and say , only l.p allowed :) Why would anyone want to destroy that when there are other options? I don't understand. And attracting visitors to our area with this beautiful wildlife and recreation area does produce revenue for the towship and its small business owners. 'Cause what does everyone like to do after a good day of fishing and boating?? Go eat at one of our local restaurants :)

Anonymous said...

I would like to comment about the comment "townships knowing where they're bread is buttered"

In these hard times when people are going thru their medical prescriptions to see which medicine they can afford to buy this month, and going thru their bills to see what bills they are going to [pay this month. When their property tax bill or their school tax bill comes in , which residents do you think are more likely to pay? The ones who township doesn't care about them, only care about the developer, or the townhsip who looks out for the little guy too? I know I paid my taxes this year with a smile on my face. I am proud to live here and I am proud to "butter the bread" in what way I can :)

(look at worcestor, no building going on there and at least they still have some trees still standing for shade)...stay kool

Anonymous said...

trying to look at this from a purely business perspective, I don't think it would be prudent for l.p to allow a significant number of its residents to have their property values depreciated by havng their properties condemned with sewer easemments and manholes on them. Depreciated property values means tax reassessments and less property taxes means loss of revenue. It is hard enough to sell your home these days now imagine trying to sell it when your deed is not free and clear and you have a big manhole in your back yard and you can't even plant a tree or grow a garden in it.

And yes development is important to an extent but do you think we could leave a few trees please? I sort of remember in science class hearing that trees decrease carbon in the air and put back oxygen, something about being necessary for sustaining life!

Anonymous said...

the tax bill I think most residents are likely to pay is the one that's as low as it can be in the first place. Your township can care about you all it wants but it's not going to put money in your bank account for you. Fighting the low cost option has its benefits but it also has its cots too one of which is a higher cost of living here.

Anonymous said...

Referring to the previous blog, I apoligize, I'm not sure what is meant by 'low cost option'. But I would like to know , do you agree with anything I had to say?

Anonymous said...

Its not just about being in 'my backyard'. This land was my mom and dad's. I grew up here and was very close to my dad. He loved it down by the creek so much. All my childhood memories are of being with him taking walks and swimming in the creek or just sitting on his lap and 'just looking' around. The summer before he died he told me and my sister when we were trying to get him to stop swimming in the creek because he was getting so weak(he had stomach cancer) he said the day when i can know longer swim in the creek is when i want to die,' well he died that Christmas.

So now when I am down there I think of him, i feel so close to him. Its like a part of him is still there. It would be like if you lost a loved one and you had their favorite blanket or sweater or picture and when you held that blanket or smelled it, you felt close to that person, and then imagine if someone was threatening to take that blanket from you and burn it or destroy it, desecrate it, would hold on for dear life...because if you let go you feel like you would lose that person forever... That's what I am doing.

Thanks for listening,

Anonymous said...

Wholly Crap, I just got home from driving over the Perkie by the Collegbeville Inn, what a mess. The devastation and clearing is unbelievable. I thought this whole thing with the neighbors was overblown and they were just being nimbys. NOT so, now I know what this is all about and I feel sorry for them if this ever comes to fruition. Thank God the township supervisors bellied up to the bar and took on the regional sewer system people. Generally I don't think much of governement but I appreciate Brown and the others for sticking their respective necks on the line. If this was in my back yard I would be at their meetings too asking for their help!

Not A Fan said...

It's easy to stick your neck out when there is not much you can do anyway. He just has the people there fooled into thinking he can. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in awhile, this issue is a feel-good-but-do-nothing thing for him.

Anonymous said...

wow you really should read up on your facts. l.p has alot of power to fight this, the shame is they shouldn't have to, that's not the way fellow municapalities should treat each other, but since the regional lied and tried the sneaky sneaky by trying to switch it on to l.p side and got caught they now reopened the car door and put l.p right in the drivers seat, thank you regional, i guess the saying , what goes around comes around applies here.

Anonymous said...

to the sewer shocked blogger above, thanks for your support, i wish there would have been some way to have stopped it from going thru collegeville too, sewers should be run along roads or under roads not thru our natural resources, not along our perkiomen creek, now that you see it you know what weve been talking about, nobody realized the scope of this. i hope all the wildlife got a chance to get out, i hope the birds come down stream to our trees, as long as they don't take them down too.
we need to wake up Montgomery County and stop this, sadly its to late for the upper and lower section but please help save the middle, just 'cause its not in your back yard, remeber the song,'this land is your land, this land is my land,, from califorinia,,," REMEMBER

Anonymous said...

Just remember this when elections come this November. The chairman of the LPVRSA and man pulling the strings on the board at Upper Providence and the one who voted in favor for the development of Upper Providence is up for re-election