The Derry Borough Municipal Authority (DBMA) received a bit more clarity at Wednesday’s virtual meeting regarding structural problems that have brought heavy flooding to sections of the borough in recent years.
Authority engineer Mark Gera of Gibson-Thomas Engineering Co. Inc. told the board that videos of the flood-prone Fourth Ward uncovered structural problems only on North Chestnut Street. Gera said the North Chestnut Street line contains a number of defects.
“That line has to be addressed, and that’s an expensive proposition,” he said, adding that the board consider applying for Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority (PennVEST) funding for potential repair and replacement work.
Gera noted that “other than North Chestnut Street, the majority of the problems with the flooding are from the laterals. That needs to be addressed individually.”
Gera said Derry Borough can attempt to alleviate the flooding issues through several methods, including the construction of an equalization tank. While engineers have not explored that option locally, Gera said the municipality could explore placing up to three tanks within the borough. An extreme example, he noted, is taking place in Johnstown and its surrounding communities.
“Derry is not the only community that has this problem. Some communities do nothing and they put in equalization tanks and they take the flood water, put it into a tank and store it, and when the storm passes it gradually goes back into the sewer system,” Gera said. “The City of Johnstown right now is making everybody dig up their basement floors and replace their laterals, which is very expensive and so far the results have not been what I’d call stellar. There are still problems.”
“They had everyone in the Johnstown system do that,” he added. “It’s a recommendation that I don’t think is palatable for Derry. Once we do a little work, and hopefully we get a decent snow melt, we can see what’s coming out of these laterals and try to get some answers for the people who are affected. But right now, we know there is no structural problem with the sewers, the main lines.”
In November, the authority received a formal response from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) outlining the necessary steps for the authority to take in alleviating flooding issues in Fourth Ward. The DEP is requesting that DBMA revise its current corrective action plan, focusing efforts and finances to the Fourth Ward — including conducting smoke, dye, and or CCTV testing along with passing a lateral resale ordinance, and to “consider flow monitoring the storm water system.”
Dye testing in the Fourth Ward was completed late last year, while smoke testing was also done in the area.
Last year, the authority board heard concerns from residents following a flooding incident on July 23, and consequently authority manager Amy Forsha said DBMA did a large amount of smoke testing in the Fourth Ward area. The testing, she noted, revealed that some homes had cracked sanitary sewer laterals. The authority also sent letters to affected residents, asking if they were interested in having their sanitary sewers televised free of charge.
The DBMA previously approved to conduct a flow study on the authority’s sanitary sewer system at a monthly cost of $10,000. The flow study, which is part of a five-year corrective action plan with the DEP, is needed to help the authority identify areas where stormwater is making its way into the sanitary sewer system. The flow study will help pinpoint areas where stormwater infiltration is heaviest.
Forsha said part of the corrective action plan is televising every line within the borough system and to separate the work into specific wards, with the Fourth Ward first on the list. The authority board last year awarded a bid to televise lines in the Fourth Ward to Pittsburgh-based Robinson Pipe Cleaning Co., work that began in December.
Authority board members Barbara Phillips and Sara Cowan suggested that the DBMA “fast track” the five-year corrective action plan in order to potentially assist flood-weary homeowners. Forsha noted that moving the project along at a quicker pace is doable, but comes at an added cost, both financially and as it pertains to manpower.
Hiring an outside company to perform related work has also been discussed.
Lisa Zaucha, representing state Rep. Jason Silvis at Wednesday’s meeting, said the DEP “is willing to work with you. We need to get through the camera (work), smoke and die testing and see what the corrective action plan turns out to be. From there, we can help you negotiate with the DEP on a good solution.”
Added Forsha of the work, which also includes fixing defects once all the lines are televised: “The DEP wants us to get the excess water out of our system, identify the excess water, camera the lines, do the smoke and die testing ... We want to try to get as much excess water out so our tanks are smaller and the cost is less to the community.”
The board plans to revisit the matter at next month’s meeting, including the possibility of a rate increase to help fund the improvements needed to potentially curb flooding. The authority hasn’t raised rates since 2014, Forsha said.
“It’s a universal problem and a non-universal solution,” Gera said of addressing the flooding issues. “I grew up in Derry and we’re doing the best we can to solve the problem as economically as possible.”
In other business Wednesday, Gera said engineers received bids this month for a new sludge press building. The low bid from general contractor Swede Construction Corp. came in at $400,000 and the low bid for electrical work from PFB Electric Co. came in at just over $55,000.
To help fund the project, the authority has received a $200,000 grant from the state’s PA Small Water and Sewer Program. Gera said the project could be scaled down, depending on how much the board would like to invest into it; the board voted Wednesday to table any action until next month.
“We can take our time and see what we want to do,” he said.
He added an alternate price is available for a masonry sludge press building.
He noted the cost for a metal building, which typically isn’t used because of corrosion, is an estimated $300,000.
“We do have the extra funds to cover the difference, but the project did come over the original estimate by $175,000,” Forsha said.
Gera also reported that a PennVEST funding application has been submitted to potentially replace lead service lines in the borough; he said the DBMA should know more details by April.
The board also held an executive session Wednesday regarding personnel.