Sewer project protests continue

Hollidaysburg homeowners upset over projected costs to repair private lines

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Police had to intervene twice to calm down people upset with a borough sewer project at a council meeting last week.

Those same sentiments are likely to come up this afternoon when the Hollidaysburg Sewer Authority meets.

About 30 residents gathered Thursday night at the Hollidaysburg Borough Building.

Walt Zolna, a Clark Street resident, described the meeting as contentious, with one woman claiming she would have to sell her home because she could not afford mandated sewer work.

“Why would you jeopardize people’s homes and their livelihoods?” Zolna said, accusing borough leaders of bullying local residents.

That’s a question he plans to again ask at 5 p.m. today during a sewer authority meeting, where he also plans to raise accusations against local officials.

Zolna claims they added to the project eliminating money that was originally set aside to help homeowners cover costs, and he said he has the documents to prove it.

Authority board members and their employees are now overseeing an ongoing sewer main replacement project.

The project, which is partially mandated by the state Department of Environmental Protection, includes the replacement of sewer mains in two borough areas, where ground- and stormwater seeping into the sanitary system has become a problem.

In addition to main pipe replacement, homeowners may have to replace private lines — under homes and within property lines — if they fail a borough-mandated pressure test.

Private work could require homeowners to tear up basement floors to get to under-home pipes. That work, residents claim, could be costly, with some reporting bills of $10,000 and more.

Cost has been a point of contention among those who do not have money saved for the project, as well as those who have finished basements.

That continues to be the case, with Zolna saying borough officials once set aside money to pay for lateral work, but that money was later rerouted to add another section of main replacement. He pointed to a set of documents, insisting they verify his claim.

On Friday, the Mirror was unable to reach borough officials to ask questions about the documents — a Pennvest application and subsequent “change of scope.” The borough office was closed because of Saturday’s Veterans Day holiday.

However, sewer authority Chairman Regis Nale, speaking over the phone, confirmed that covering the cost of private lateral work was once discussed.

“Did we ever consider doing the homes? We thought about it,” Nale said, explaining advice from solicitor Nathan Karn steered them away from that thought.

Nale said Karn told authority members that they would forever be responsible for the laterals’ upkeep if they paid for installation.

Also, other homeowners outside of the project area then may have a legal claim in pushing for the authority to cover the costs of their lateral work, Nale said, citing Karn.

“They would probably win that in court,” Nale said. “We would be taking on an enormous responsibility and an enormous cost in the long run.”

A message left for Karn Friday afternoon was not returned by early evening.

When it comes to “change of scope,” Nale admitted Friday that a second neighborhood was added to the project — a fact he has never tried to hide.

Early last year, it was announced that Pennvest awarded the sewer authority grant and loan funds totaling $7,141,500 to cover the project.

That funding exceed the project’s cost and allowed borough leaders to add work in the “Jones Street area,” Nale has said many times, explaining the area was identified as problematic during an engineering study.

Dispute heated

Sewer officials and peeved residents have been facing off on the issue for months, and the same was true at a Borough Council meeting on Thursday, according to Zolna and Nale.

“It was the same people pretty much saying the same things,” Nale said of comments from both sides.

Council members had the opportunity to ask questions and receive answers from sewer authority officials; residents did not.

“No one would answer anything,” Zolna said.

That has been the policy of sewer officials for some time, Nale said.

“I responded to the question for several meetings. The same questions came right back,” Nale said of the residents’ reluctance to accept the answers. “I was very reluctant, but the decision was made that we wouldn’t comment.”

Nale said under-home pipes are a major cause of the system’s problems, and requiring a fix is the only true way to eliminate the infiltration of ground- and stormwater.

“If we are going to correct the problem and be sure the project is corrected, this was really the only way to go,” he said, sympathizing with the concerned residents’ reluctance to accept that under-home work is necessary.

“I don’t blame those homeowners for not believing it,” Nale continued. “It was a while until we actually realized what that really meant … we were reluctant to believe that.”

Still, Nale said he welcomes residents to speak at the authority’s meetings.

“I believe the people have the right to say what they believe,” he said. “I think we should be as open and as transparent as we can.”

Mirror Staff Writer Sean Sauro is at 946-7535.