City exploring options for septic system woes

Seven Eldorado properties having problems

City officials are looking into the possibility of allocating money to extend a sewer line up 39th Street from West Chestnut Avenue into an Eldorado neighborhood where at least seven septic systems are malfunctioning.

City Council members discussed options at a recent meeting after area resident Greg Lascoli explained that the septic problem has stalled his plans to build a home on a large tract along 39th Street.

There are not enough families on the prospective line to make the project affordable through cost-sharing without government help, according to Michael Sinisi, staff engineer for the Altoona Water Authority and Luke Helsel, Blair County’s Sewage Enforcement Officer.

The cost of extending the line 1,200 feet to the city boundary to eliminate four of the bad septic systems is between $150,000 and $200,000, city Public Works Director Nate Kissell estimated.

The Logan Township leg of the extension would go for another 1,200 feet and take care of the other three problem properties, officials said.

Installing the line also would open additional lots for development, creating an opportunity for an increase of municipal tax revenue, officials said.

Logan Township would like the city to extend its line, so the township could continue with its own extension, said township Plan­ning Director Cassandra Schmick.

If the city doesn’t extend its line, the township will need to service the properties on its side of the boundary with an extension that would attach to an existing Altoona Water Authority main at another location, Schmick said.

Unfortunately, that would require running most of a 760-foot line uphill, necessitating construction of a pump station, which would mean ongoing operation and maintenance costs, Schmick said.

The township is prepared to allocate $100,000 in Community Development Block Grant money for the fiscal year beginning July 1 to do that project, she said.

The city might be able to allocate CDBG money for its extension, but only if the average income of the residents served by it is in the low to moderate range, according to Altoona Community Development Director Lee Slusser.

Determining that would require a survey ordered by council, Slusser said.

The general neighborhood does not qualify as low to moderate income, he said.

The city also could use general fund money, Slusser said.

There is currently a general fund surplus.

Based on reports from Helsel, the city has sent notification letters to the Altoona residents whose septic systems are in violation, said Rebecca Brown, director of the city’s De­partment of Codes and Inspections.

Generally, when her de­partment sends notices of violation, it includes in­structions on how recipients can remedy their problems, Brown said.

“(But) there’s not a remedy for this right now,” Brown said.

“We’re trying to put our heads together to figure out the most practical way (to find a remedy),” she said. “It definitely needs resolved.”

New septic systems are not a practical solution, according to Helsel.

Some properties don’t have enough ground for the large drain fields required, he said.

Holding tanks, or small stream discharge systems are possibilities, but holding tanks can cost $3,000 to install and $350 a month to pump out, while small stream discharge systems can cost $30,000, he said.

Helsel has not been pressing the residents, given their lack of reasonable options, and the absence — so far at least — of a push from the municipalities, for whom he works.

“(But) I can force (the residents) to fix it, when the city or the township declares that I need to,” he said.

That could take the form of an order to correct the problem or vacate, he said.

The septic system failures are creating a health hazard, said local resident Dan Casey, who attended the council meeting.

“It does create a health concern,” Brown said.

Only testing can tell for sure, Helsel said.

The governmental stirrings toward action pleased Helsel.

“I’m happy to see them actually working on this project,” he said. “They need to all get together and make it happen.”

The city is “working through channels toward the most economical fix,” Kissell said.

“Let’s get an estimate and a timeframe,” said Coun­cilman Dave Butterbaugh. “Then move to do it.”

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

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