Sewer system plans backed-up

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 18, 2004

JACKSON – In a regular meeting of the Northampton County Board of Commissioners here Monday, a frustrated Northampton County Public Works Director Andy Crew addressed further delays on the Lincoln Park Sewer Project.

Despite persistent efforts on behalf of the county to bring the much needed sewer service to residents on the edge of Rich Square, the project could be delayed yet several more months until the town is able to complete its sewer upgrade.

According to Crew, the town signed a Wastewater Treatment Contract in June of 1999 giving the county permission to tie into their lagoon, however, in a letter addressed to Northampton County Manager Wayne Jenkins, from Rich Square Mayor Nannie O. Branch, dated March 10 of this year, Branch stated that because of the town’s difficulty in satisfying the state, it was unable to obtain the necessary permit allowing them to proceed with their original plans.

The town reached the consensus to deny Northampton’s connectivity of the Lincoln Park Sewer District until it had completed its sewer update grant project, for which it received approximately $3 million to improve their sewer facilities.

&uot;The County Engineer David Springer had several discussions with Town Engineer David Dickenson and I had several conversations with Myrl Nisely, Division of Water Quality, and he concurred that as far as DWQ was concerned we could make the connections, as did Mr. Dickerson, providing that certain conditions set forth by the town were met,&uot; said Crew.

After receipt of letter from Dickenson to Springer, Crew proceeded to process the paperwork to get a $10,000 check for the impact fee for the town.

Once the check was in hand (July 7), Crew explained that he met with Branch and the Town Clerk in an attempt to deliver it, so as to get the ball rolling, but that both refused to accept it on the grounds that the town board needed to meet to repeal their previous action to &uot;officially stop&uot; the county from making connection to the lagoon.

Several days later, after a call meeting of the town board members, Mayor Branch sent a letter to the office of the Northampton County Manager, with a list of conditions for the county’s connectivity.

Crew responded with a letter, assuring Branch of the county’s intent to comply with the conditions set forth in her letter as well as the 1999 Wastewater Treatment Contract and stated that he called Branch to set up a time to deliver the letter along with the $10,000 check.

However, shortly after the July 14 meeting, Branch called Crew, leaving him a message stating that she could not accept letter or check and that it would have to be presented at the next regular board meeting on August 12.

Frustrated by the further delay, Crew called Mayor Branch to ask her for her reasoning in allowing for another 30-day delay. &uot;Based on input from the Town Clerk, she told me this was all she could do,&uot; he said, &uot;and she referred me back to the Town Clerk who offered no help and was not willing to tell whether or not to proceed, other than to wait until the August 12 meeting or talk with one of the Town Commissioners.&uot;

Crew took her advice and met with Commissioner Eugene Brown who suggested the best solution would be to have another &uot;call meeting&uot; of the Town Board in an effort to settle the issue.

However, the next day, Crew received a call from Brown, stating that the Mayor and town officials discussed the issue and that she &uot;would not&uot; have a call meeting and the issue would have to wait.

&uot;We have worked long and hard to get this service to the residents in Rich Square, but with their decision not to allow us to connect physically to their lagoon, we have done all we can do,&uot; said Crew.

&uot;All the work has been completed on the Lincoln Park pump station, but until we can make the final connection to the lagoon, we will not be able to test them, which inevitably delays our ability to make the final connections for the residents.

&uot;After all is said and done, they are not going to allow Northampton County to connect to the lagoon until they install a new bar screen,&uot; commented Crew who spoke with the Town Engineer this past Friday in an effort to determine a time frame on the completion of the project.

&uot;The only thing we know is that the overall sewer update project will take about a year, but we don’t know where the bar screen fits into that,&uot; he said.

According to the compliance conditions set forth in the letter from Branch, dated July 9, there was never mention of any issues regarding the absence of the bar screen, but simply, &uot;per conversation with engineer services, the county can connect to the town’s bar screen.&uot;

Had the conditions included information making the county aware that that particular aspect of the town’s sewer upgrades were not in place, it would have been obvious that connecting to the lagoons would be impossible, as there would have been nothing to connect to.

Mayor Branch was offered an opportunity to comment on the matter, but refused, simply saying she was sorry.

In addition to the inconvenience placed on the town’s residents, the county will soon be required to begin making payments on the loan that was taken out to help fund the project.

&uot;Seventy-five percent of the project is supported by grant money, but the remaining 25 percent required the county take out a loan,&uot; said Crew, who explained that when the project first began, it was estimated to take approximately six months to complete. &uot;The problem we will be facing is because there have been so many delays, the revenue that we were supposed to be collecting from user fees to support the repayment of the loan, which I estimate will likely begin in December, are not being generated.&uot;

Having heard that, the board instructed the County Attorney to review the contract between Northampton and Rich Square to determine possible options.

Northampton County Commissioner James Boone apologized on behalf of the town stating, &uot;I think part of this is due to the fact that the administration of Rich Square doesn’t have a lot of understanding of how this works.&uot;

An option of having the town pay the revenues that would have been generated during the time the county was supposed to be seeing revenue coming in from user fees until the county could tap into the town’s facilities, was suggested, however, no actions were taken with regard to the matter.

The county was anticipating the final steps of the project to be completed during the week of August 16, with a discharge date of August 23, had the bar screen been ready. &uot;Unfortunately, the ultimate start-up for the Lincoln Park Sewer Project could be delayed several months,&uot; said Crew.