Gibson-Thomas Engineering Co. Inc. and the Pittsburgh district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plan to meet today, Nov. 21, to discuss the proposed trail and sanitary sewer project between Keystone State Park and New Alexandria Borough, Gibson-Thomas engineer Barb McMillen said at Wednesday’s Derry Township Municipal Authority (DTMA) meeting.
Last month, McMillen told the board that Gibson-Thomas is still waiting for approval on rights-of-way from the Army Corps for the sewer portion of the project and an easement tied to the trail work.
Multiple requests for status updates on the project had gotten no response from the Army Corps until recently, McMillen said.
She said last month that numerous Army Corps workers have retired and the Keystone project has been transferred within the Pittsburgh office. McMillen estimated that the project has been “floated around” to about a half-dozen Army Corps employees since it was first submitted in January 2018.
“The main right of way is on Army Corps property,” she said after Wednesday’s meeting. “We’re trying and we plan to work with them to get this resolved.”
After months of lengthy public meetings and questions about whether the long-discussed project would continue, the authority board in August voted to keep the project moving forward.
In May, the board voted 4-1 to table a motion on the floor to terminate the project. Board member Gib Stemmler cast the lone dissenting vote, citing a lack of funding at the state/local levels and not wanting to overburden the residents tied into the project.
After that, an informational meeting was held in New Alexandria and the board and other entities worked to bring costs down.
As of July, the latest figures from Gibson-Thomas include 62 equivalent dwelling units as part of the sanitary sewage project, including 37 nearby homes and 25 properties owned by the state park.
According to figures provided by the engineering firm, the project carries a total cost of just over $4.6 million.
The trail component of the project is fully funded and has a price tag of $2,009,200, with funding provided through three separate state grants. The sanitary sewer portion of the project has a cost of $2,602,060, with $600,000 in funding being provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) and another $474,000 in matching state Community Conservation Partnerships Program funds.
To help cover the sanitary sewer portion project, DTMA earlier this year approved a 20-year, $1.77-million Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority (PennVEST) loan for the project.
The state loan is designated for the construction of a new sewage collection system to serve residents in the Oasis and Lower Flowers Road areas and connect the state park, located in Derry Township, to the New Alexandria treatment plant. The project will also tackle health-related issues with malfunctioning on-lot systems in the area.
The existing Keystone park sewer system is about 60 years old and has outlived its useful life, according to project engineers.
To pay back the loan, authority board members have cited a $60 monthly bill as a “target” number for debt service costs.
Gibson-Thomas engineer Ed Schmitt has said the sanitary sewer and trail projects each cannot exist without the other.
The Keystone trail has been touted as a “pivot point” in a still-developing north-central Pennsylvania trail network, as the 3.88-mile trek between Keystone State Park and New Alexandria will connect with the Legion-Keener Park Trail in Latrobe, the partially constructed Little Crabtree Creek Trail that will connect with Twin Lakes Park, and the proposed Loyalhanna Lake Trail that will connect with the Bush Recreation Area in Loyalhanna.
The Keystone Park portion of the trail — dubbed the Loyalhanna Trail — will follow gravity sewage lines proposed to be part of the sanitary sewage portion of the project.
Many of the people against the project are residents living along Flowers Road who would have to tie into the sanitary sewer system, if completed. As a result, Gibson-Thomas came up with several alternative plans in response to residents’ issues.
The authority board approved one such plan in August, which calls for the elimination of four properties on the upper end of Flowers Road as part of the project.
As part of the plan, McMillen said previously that funds designated for the four Flowers Road homes — about $40,000 total — will be used to service a handful of homes near the Keystone State Park office.
In other business on Wednesday, the authority board approved resolutions to apply for Pennsylvania Commonwealth Financing Authority (CFA) Small Water and Sewer program grant funding for sewer line work near the Dollar General store along Route 217 and for the installation of sewer service in the Chappell Way area. If DTMA secures funding, each project would require a 15% authority match.
The board also approved to refinance a pair of bond issues. DTMA manager Carol L. Henderson said the first refinancing is tied to a 2012 bond issue related to the Derbytown and Latrobe area projects, while the 2013 bond issue is related to the McGee Run project.
Henderson noted that the refinancing won’t extend any terms and is being done solely to lock in favorable rates.