Portage sewer ordinance questioned

PORTAGE – Portage Borough officials are going back to the drawing board on a proposed sewer ordinance that has drawn widespread criticism and outcry from borough residents.

About 100 residents – many from the borough’s third ward, where the sewer testing ordinance will be implemented first – packed the Portage Volunteer Fire Company banquet hall during Monday’s borough council committee of the whole meeting.

Mark Chobany, a third ward resident, said the sewer ordinance is economically impossible for Portage residents to comply with. His wife, Councilwoman Rebecca Chobany, has also expressed her disapproval of the 60-day mandate.

“This is heavy-handed,” Mark Chobany said. “This is oppressive.”

The current ordinance mandates air testing of residents’ home sewage system for all homes in the borough’s third ward within 60 days of completion of the borough’s new system sewage system.

Air testing the connections ensures the home’s sewage system is secure and functions properly and does not allow infiltration into other systems, said Donald Squillario, public works director.

If the homes fail the testing, they will have to replace their sewage pipes to prevent infiltration.

Instead of adopting the proposed ordinance for public advertisement ahead of final approval of the ordinance, council voted unanimously to have Borough Manager Robert Koban amend the ordinance to remove the 60-day mandate.

Koban will bring the revised copy of the ordinance to the Aug. 5 council meeting, where officials will again vote to approve or deny the proposed ordinance.

During the meeting, many residents voiced concern over being forced to pay the costs of testing and upgrading their sewage systems.

One man said he just moved to the borough within the past year and was never told of the sewer project or future costs. Another woman said she was in her 70s and could not afford the costs of upgrading her system.

During their July 1 meeting, both Councilwoman Chobany and Mayor Robert Fox voted unsuccessfully against the proposed 60-day ordinance.

They said the ordinance should mandate sewer line testing only when buying or transferring a property. The costs for residents to complete the testing within 60 days of the system’s completion are expected to be too high and would put Portage families under a significant financial burden.

The system is an upgrade that is sorely needed in the borough to eliminate infiltration problems with homes in the third ward, Squillario said.

Residents would likely support an ordinance mandating testing be completed when buying or transferring a property, Mark Chobany said.

“You’re the voice of community,” Mark Chobany said, gesturing to the crowd. “Here’s the community.”

Councilman James A. Kissell Sr. said the borough needs the ordinance to prevent infiltration in the sewer system and bring the system up to current environmental standards.

“You need to do what needs to be done,” Kissell said. “You can’t put a band-aid on a cut when there’s an artery bleeding.”

Residents questioned why the ordinance called for testing within 60 days of completion of the lines.

The 60 days was a recommendation of the engineer, Borough Manager Robert Koban said.

Construction on the project is not expected to start for at least 18 months, Koban said.