The Derry Borough Municipal Authority (DBMA) 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.

At Wednesday’s authority board meeting, DBMA manager Amy Forsha read DEP’s response to the board which addressed an Aug. 25 meeting between DBMA, DEP and Gibson-Thomas Engineering Co. Inc. that discussed “the existing hydraulic overload in DBMA’s sewer system, which has caused basement backups to occur in residential dwellings within the Fourth Ward of Derry Borough.”

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.”

“The (DEP) recently approved a corrective action plan for DBMA; however, these basement backups were not reported at that time and therefore, were unknown to the (DEP),” the letter dated Nov. 5 stated. “Therefore, the previously approved corrective action plan did not prioritize the Fourth Ward and did not place special attention to swiftly study this area.”

However, Forsha said that efforts are already underway to address the flooding issue in Fourth Ward.

“The DEP was aware of the basement backups, and they do know that we have a resale sewer lateral ordinance,” Forsha wrote in an email to the Bulletin. “We are 78% complete with the dye testing of downspouts within the Fourth Ward, and Robinson Pipe will be completing a televising contract within the Fourth Ward beginning on Dec. 7. We have also done system wide flow metering.”

Forsha said dye testing in Fourth Ward will wrap up by the end of November, with about 50-60 homes yet to be dye tested.

“We have also done smoke testing in the area, and we plan to do some additional smoke testing,” she said.

The DEP letter went on: “It is critical that DBMA have a better understanding of the infrastructure in this watershed to properly alleviate and fix this public health issue and to effectively appropriate funds for the resolution.”

The DEP is requesting that DBMA report all overflows as a result of any measures taken to minimize public health hazards to the appropriate DEP inspector within 24 hours. DMBA must now also submit a written plan for DEP approval, setting forth the actions to be taken to alleviate the overload to the system and eliminate basement backups in the Fourth Ward, as a revision to the current corrective action plan.

“I’m surprised by DEP’s letter. It’s almost like they haven’t read stuff that we’ve already submitted to them,” Forsha said.

“If they would have looked at our previous stuff, they’d know that we enacted a sewer lateral dye testing ordinance at the beginning of 2019.”

At a previous meeting, the authority board heard concerns from more than a half-dozen residents following a flooding incident on July 23, and consequently 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.

Earlier this year, the DBMA 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. Last month, the authority board awarded a bid to televise lines in the Fourth Ward to Pittsburgh-based Robinson Pipe Cleaning Co. The work is set to begin Dec. 7.

Forsha said DBMA will work with Derry Borough to revise its existing sewer ordinance. The authority board discussed the option of having residents replace their terra cotta pipes with plastic ones. However, engineer Mark Gera of Gibson-Thomas said a stormwater retention tank would be a more cost effective option to alleviate sewage overflows.

“You’d have to do it systemwide; and, quite honestly, it is so expensive in most cases,” Gera said of residents replacing their own pipes. “A retention tank...would be cheaper for everybody to do that as opposed to spending $15,000 or $20,000 individually in your homes. Unless everybody can do that, there’s no assurance that it’s going to work.”

In other business at Wednesday’s meeting, the authority board:

  • Approved a 50% credit for a customer on a 526,000-gallon leak; 25% credit for a customer with a 41,000-gallon toilet leak, and a 25% cash refund on a $964.60 bill for an 85,000-gallon leak at a customer’s vacant home;
  • Heard from Forsha who said DBMA is in the design phase for its new sludge press building;
  • Heard from resident and Derry Borough Council member Barbara Phillips who read a letter expressing an issue with DBMA’s handling of the flooding issue in Fourth Ward. “We have lost security that our home is a safe place,” she said. “We now leave our homes with a feeling of dread, not knowing what the weather will bring. We need the water authority to step up and take action, and we depend on you to care for us.”

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