Engineering firms take payment risk for ISC

ISC has applied for $1 million from Growing Greener program

The engineering firms that serve the municipal members of the group charged with reducing sediment from stormwater in central Blair County by 1.4 million pounds per year over the next five years have agreed to begin work on the project that is key to fulfilling that responsibility — without a guarantee they’ll be paid.

Stiffler McGraw, Keller, Morris Knowles & Associates and Levine will divvy up about $75,000 worth of engineering work to prepare for dredging the lake in Lakemont before the Inter­governmental Stormwater Committee has the money to pay for the work, so that potential funding sources will see that the committee is serious about fulfilling its responsibilities, according to engineer and committee member Tom Levine.

The 11-municipality ISC has applied for $1 million from the Growing Greener program and for $200,000 from the National Fish and Wildlife Commission as a match, to help pay the estimated $1.7-million cost of the Lakemont work.

If the engineers don’t prepare for the actual dredging operation, the grant applications could get “hung up” amid applications from other stormwater groups, leading to denials or delays, according to Levine.

The Lakemont project alone would remove 38 percent of the necessary sediment, at a cost of $3.30 per pound — $2.20 a pound less than for any of the other previously proposed projects on a list submitted to the committee in May.

The firms are taking a financial risk, Levine said.

But if they don’t, the committee could be “in trouble,” said engineer Brian Shura of Stiffler McGraw.

“I applaud your efforts,” said committee member Rick Pope, public works director for Hollidaysburg.

The firms’ commitment shows their willingness to work with the municipalities and with each other and shows they have good relationships with the municipalities, said committee Chairman Tim Brown, manager of Logan Township.

Because of those relationships, they’re probably confident of ultimately being paid, Brown said.

It’s not likely the committee will disintegrate, endangering payments to the firms, despite its being scheduled to expire at the end of this year, given that 10 of the 11 members have at least informally agreed to re-up with the ISC, Brown indicated.

Based on the most recent inspection of the dam that keeps the lake in place, the dredging operation shouldn’t expose problems that the lake’s owner — Blair County — would be dismayed to learn about, officials said.

As the owner, the county will need to participate in the permitting of the work, they said.

Streambank restoration on Brush Run upstream from the lake will be a corollary to the dredging project.

Other proposed projects recently proposed by the ISC Technical Subcommittee include improvements to the Beaverdam Branch of the Juniata River and work on an infiltration basin.

The subcommittee has proposed that all the work could be awarded via three contracts, with costs for the ISC — an estimated total of $6.2 million — likely to be heaviest during the fourth and fifth years of the permit, Levine said.