Infrastructure projects, planning have prepared Oxford for future
● By J. Chambless
The buildings on the site of the new wastewater treatment plant were designed to fit in with the rural character of the area.
Oxford Area Sewer Authority executive director Ed Lennex said in an interview last week that following a series of infrastructure projects during the last decade, the Oxford area is prepared for the residential and commercial growth that will come in the next 20 years—maybe longer.
Lennex said that additions of the Osborne storage lagoon, the Ross spray fields, and a new wastewater treatment plant not only got the Oxford area out from under a moratorium on new construction, but also provide for enough capacity to meet the future needs of an area poised for planned growth.
The system upgrades, Lennex said, pave the way for commercial and residential growth that is consistent with the county’s comprehensive plan, Landscapes 2, the Oxford Area Regional Comprehensive Plan that was developed and approved by municipal leaders, and the Vista 2025 initiative that plots out future growth for the entire county. Public sewage will only be available in areas that have already been designated for development by municipalities in the Oxford area.
"This was based on what Oxford Borough, West Nottingham, East Nottingham, and Lower Oxford have said that they want. If you’re going to expand, expand where the infrastructure is," Lennex explained. "Don’t go out to the farmland. Keep the farmland the way that it is."
The sewer authority is nearing the completion of the third phase of infrastructure improvements, which includes the construction of a new wastewater treatment plant. When everything is complete, the plant will eventually have capacity of 1.25 million gallons per day.
That’s more than double what Oxford’s sewer system could accommodate a decade ago, when the area was under a moratorium that restricted new businesses or residences from discharging into Oxford’s sewer system because of a lack of sewage capacity.
When Lennex came on board as the executive director a decade ago, the sewer authority needed to update its Act 537 Plan.
It was years-long process to get an updated Act 537 Plan approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and the sewer authority enlisted the help of RETTEW to accomplish the task. The goal of the Act 537 Plan was not only to resolve the existing sewage disposal issues, but plan for the future needs of the area as well. One important factor was for all the upgrades to be as environmentally friendly as possible.
While the details of the Act 537 Plan were still being worked out, officials also had to tackle the challenge of securing the funding for the infrastructure improvements that would be needed.
During the economic downturn that got its start in 2007 and really took hold in 2008, many of the commercial and residential projects that were in the planning stages in the Oxford area were halted.
"That caused us to go back and take another look at what our needs were," Lennex explained.
As a direct result of the economic downturn, the federal government invested in infrastructure improvements as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The sewer authority secured about $27 million in low-interest loans through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service program. Another $5 million was acquired through the H20PA grant program.
The sewer authority was finally able to move forward with the first phase of infrastructure improvements, which was the construction of the 39.4 million-gallon Osborne lagoon. Lennex described the size of the large lagoon as being equivalent to four football fields. The lagoon was completed in 2012.
"That restored our treatment capacity to 600,000 gallons per day and allowed the system to be rerated to 760,000 gallons per day," Lennex said.
That addition ended the moratorium and allowed the sewer authority to begin allocating Equivalent Dwelling Units (EDUs) for development projects. The Oxford Area Sewer Authority board adopted policies as to how the EDUs would be released.
The next step was completion of the Ross spray fields, which are adjacent to the Osborne lagoon. Using spray irrigation recharges the groundwater and maintains the local water supply. Instead of releasing treated effluent into local waterways, the effluent is sprayed onto local fields. The Ross spray fields became operational in July 2014.
The new wastewater treatment plant is expected to be completed later in 2015. Like so many other aspects of the infrastructure upgrades, every detail was carefully planned out. This includes the appearance of the wastewater treatment plant.
"All the buildings look like farm structures," Lennex said. "If you were driving by, you wouldn’t think it is a treatment plant. It was intended to blend in."
When the new treatment plant is operational, the pre-existing treatment lagoon will be cleaned and converted into a storage lagoon, so the sewer authority will own and operate facilities with enough treatment, storage, and spray disposal for an average daily flow of 905,000 gallons.
"Basically, we have no more problems with capacity," Lennex explained. "We have the spray field and sufficient storage. We have fulfilled what we set out to do."
All the infrastructure improvements come at a time when the sewage capacity needs of the area are increasing.
Ware Presbyterian Village is in the midst of the next phase of its expansion project. There are also five medium-to-large existing residential projects, including Sycamore Crossing, Twin Ponds, and Cooper Farm, that are expected to be completed. A handful of other, smaller townhome projects are also at various stages in the planning process.
"We can now meet the needs of anything that would come up," Lennex explained.
The infrastructure upgrades were a massive undertaking, but the sewer authority is continuing to move forward with other initiatives as well.
Lennex said that the sewer authority recently received a community development block grant that will allow for the Sixth Street pump station to be replaced. This is one of the larger and older pump stations still in operation in Oxford.
Additionally, the sewer authority applied for two other grants, one through the Pennsylvania PennWorks program, to extend public sewage from Waterway Road to Nottingham and, on the other side of town, from the Oxford Borough line toward Lincoln University. These projects narrowly missed out on the last round of grant funding, so they are well positioned for the next round.
"We’re in line for those grants, Lennex said. "Our application is already in."
These sewage lines are consistent with the goal of targeting growth on properties that are zoned for commercial and industrial uses. The project to extend public sewage toward Nottingham will cost about $6.8 million. Extending sewage north will cost about $1.5 million. The funding that the sewer authority is bidding for are matching grants that provide for 75 percent of the project costs, with local sources contributing the remaining 25 percent.
Lennex emphasized that the sewer authority’s board wants to ensure that developers will pay for the extension of those lines.
"We have letters of commitment from developers along these lines," he said. "The cost of the project will not be put on the existing rate payers. I’d really like to get these two lines in because they address the needs of the municipalities. There is a potential to have a nice mix of residential development and businesses in the future."
To contact Staff Writer Steven Hoffman, email email@example.com.