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AMED faces another delay

Wind damage causes Penelec to delay electric hookup to building

Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski A crew from New Enterprise Stone & Lime Co. Inc. pave the parking lot of the new AMED headquarters building under construction along Shand Avenue on Wednesday afternoon. While the initial target date for completing the AMED building project was the first week of April, several issues have created delays.

The initial target for completing AMED’s new headquarters building and substation in Lakemont was the first week in April.

Several issues have delayed the project.

Yet another problem arose this week, helping ensure that the latest deadline — the end of this month — won’t be met either, according to Executive Director Gary Watters.

The newest problem is wind damage in the area on Sunday that forced Penelec to postpone plans to bring power to the building Monday so they could make repairs elsewhere, Watters said.

The AMED power connection has been long-delayed due to a neighbor’s refusal to grant an “aerial easement” to allow a line to be run above the back edge of his property, which abuts an alley connecting Imler and Reimer streets, Watters said.

All the other neighbors who needed to give easements signed off, but negotiations that began with this neighbor in March 2019 broke down, leading to an eminent domain taking by AMED, followed by the neighbor’s appeal to Blair County Court, then to Commonwealth Court — which still hasn’t ruled, according to Watters.

The power line would encroach on the neighbor’s property by about 3 feet, Watters estimated.

“It’s very minimal,” he said.

It’s one of two lines that Penelec needs to add, along with crossarms, to existing poles that now carry a single wire, to supply the new building with three-phase power, Watters said.

Penelec decided to move ahead with installation of the lines even though the appeal remains unresolved, according to Watters.

The company is within its rights, as AMED’s eminent domain-taking remains in force, Watters said.

The work “should have been done two months ago,” he said.

The hope now is that it can be done Wednesday, Watters said at a meeting Monday.

“The adventure of trying to get power,” said board Chairman Dave Cowger. “Someone upstairs is throwing all they can (against the project).”

One limitation on Penelec’s installation is the need to minimize disruption for People’s Natural Gas Field and Galactic Ice, said board member Jordan Settle.

In addition to running the two new lines, the power installation at the site will necessitate removing two poles and moving communication lines, Watters said.

Lines will be buried at the site, because otherwise, the necessary poles will be too close to the building, he said.

If the building had been finished when initially envisioned, delays caused by COVID-19 would have been minimal, according to Watters.

Because it was not completed, those delays have been significant, he said.

While there was an exemption from a COVID-19 shutdown, closures elsewhere led to supply problems for the contractor, Watters said.

There also have been problems getting permission to build an emergency exit driveway onto Park Avenue, across from the ballfield. Those have involved delays in obtaining a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination Permit and a permit for a stormwater culvert, which hasn’t yet arrived, Watters said. The request for the culvert permit was filed with the state Department of Environmental Protection in August 2019, he said.

“We can’t proceed further with PennDOT until that’s done,” he said. “That’s directly COVID-related.”

Ventura Construction Services may be liable for monetary penalties if it doesn’t meet the end-of-November deadline, according to Watters.

Whether to impose the penalties will be up to the board, he said.

AMED is eager to get its Lakemont crews out of their temporary quarters in Lakemont Park and to get its billing employees, who are currently stationed in Altoona, to “spread out,” to reduce their COVID-19 risk, Watters said.

But any further delays won’t increase project costs, Watters said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.

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