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Bellwood seeks groundwater alternative to AWA

The Bellwood Borough Authority is looking for a groundwater source that it hopes could eventually become a lower-cost replacement for its current supply from the Altoona Water Authority.

The Bellwood authority’s consulting engineer this week asked the Logan Township supervisors to consider allowing the borough to drill a test well on township-owned property at Logan’s sewer treatment plant in Antis Township — part of the borough authority’s larger effort to find a suitable groundwater source.

The success of that effort will depend on obtaining sufficient flow, with treatment and other ancillary costs that are small enough to justify the switch to well water, according to Brian Shura of Stiffler McGraw & Associates.

The borough has undertaken the effort in response to a recent increase in the cost of water it buys from the Altoona authority, triggered by Altoona’s renovations of the Bellwood Water Treatment Plant and its dam, costing $35.6 million.

Bellwood customers have recently begun to pay more for water from the Altoona authority, in keeping with an agreement the parties struck to account for the Altoona authority’s just-started renovation.

Last fall, the borough authority feared that its cost for water would rise by a factor of 7.5, with the average customer’s bill going from $50 a month to $130 a month, based on adjustments to the initial agreement between the parties when the treatment plant was built in the 1990s.

Since then, the parties have overhauled the agreement, which now calls for the borough to pay regular bulk rates, with a discount for the first three years.

If bulk rates remain the same, Bellwood customers would be paying $68 in 2025.

Both sides publicly expressed satisfaction with that recent agreement.

But the borough authority thinks it might be able to do better.

“(It’s) trying to cover all the bases” to ensure that its 1,500 customers get the best rates possible, Shura said.

That’s “disappointing,” Altoona Authority Executive Director Mark Perry said. “We put a lot of time and effort into negotiations.”

If the borough plan pans out, it would be a “significant” customer loss, Perry said.

If the borough locates a source, the water would need to be disinfected, at minimum, before being piped to borough residents, according to Shura.

The Logan property is one of “multiple” sites that a hydrogeologist hired by the borough has identified as a possible location, according to Shura.

The borough is working with other property owners too, some of whom haven’t been willing to cooperate, Shura said.

The borough at this point is not looking to exercise eminent domain to acquire a well site, he said.

The Logan supervisors agreed to cooperate by informal consensus.

The borough authority will likely draw up a proposed agreement to govern any arrangement with the township, Shura said.

The hydrogeologist will need to refine the best location for a test well, he said.

Ultimately, the borough would like to own the property on which a working well is located, in keeping with the typical expectation of the state Department of Environmental Protection, Shura said.

A wellhead property would need to be between 2 and 8 acres, depending on the depth of the well, and other factors that would affect wellhead “protection,” he said.

Maybe a lease or an easement agreement would be workable, Logan Township officials suggested.

Maybe Bellwood could pay “royalties” to Logan for the water it draws from a well on township property, said Supervisors Chairman Jim Patterson.

He’s never heard of royalties for well water, Shura said.

It could work, in theory, said solicitor Dan Stants.

The DEP would require the borough authority to monitor any effect on other wells in the area, and provide water service to users for whom a borough well causes problems, according to Shura.

One of the attractions of the area where the borough is looking is a scarcity of other wells, Shura said.

The borough would probably not be ready to drill a test well until next year, he said.

Groundwater operations to supply borough customers wouldn’t happen for three or four years, Shura predicted.

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

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