Township provides update on community sewer system12/13/2022 02:47PM ● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
Currently, there are 20 families living on Ashford Drive, Red Oak Lane and Spruce Lane in Kennett Township whose homes are connected to the Ashford Sewer System, a community-based sewer configuration.
Originally constructed in 1995 by Sumser/Sun Tech Associates, the system had issues right from the start that involved the need for nitrate removal; absorbed DEP citations and fines; saw tardy bill payments to vendors and certified operators; and eventually, all of it led to the perplexing task of finding out who was in charge, given that the original management team had relinquished all duties.
In 2003, Kennett Township took on the de facto responsibility of funding repairs, maintenance costs and improvements, and in 2006, the township took over the system. While the system continues to service its limited amount of customers, a recently-created 299-page summary report served as the basis for a Dec. 7 meeting that spelled out an historic overview of the system, provided a snapshot of expenditures and revenues, and painted the broad brushstrokes for the system’s future “in order to provide a common ground for the residents of Ashford and the township to move forward in a constructive manner.”
Moderated by the township’s Director of Finance and Human Resources Amy Heinrich – who compiled the report with her staff – the meeting’s intent was to “end the speculation of what happened to the system in the past,” she said.
Connecting the dots of the financial overview of the system was made more difficult, Heinrich said, because the records found only dated back to 2012, and expenses from 2006 to 2011 were found to be in paper documentation only – and do not include maintenance services and pumping fees.
Oversight for next 15 years
Heinrich said that the township’s goal is to provide a more regulated routine oversight process over the next 15 years that will include inspecting and testing pump stations and tanks; checking wet wells for grease; conducting electric flow meter readings; providing clean-outs and pump-and-haul of the system; collecting effluent samples and coordinating laboratory testing; and providing the township with a monthly report.
AECOM, the township’s engineering firm, is developing a request for proposal (RFP) in order to establish a contract with a vendor that will establish day-to-day operations and an annual maintenance contract – all of which will be overseen by AECOM and Ted Otteni, the township’s director of Public Works. Expenditures will also include a pump-and-haul contract, compiling a Chapter 94 Annual DEP report, and monthly utility costs.
“The DEP requires that a licensed operator be in charge of the system, and nobody in the township is a licensed operator at this point in time,” Otteni said. “The DEP permit that we operate under stipulates that there has to be weekly inspections with weekly testing of the water for certain components.”
According to compiled figures from 2006 to 2022 and for 2023 to 2036, the sewer fees and expenses for the system have fluctuated – and will fluctuate -- from a positive balance to a negative annual balance. Currently, there is a positive balance of $16,571, but by 2036, Heinrich said that she forecasts the overall figure will register a $50,650 negative balance, meaning that the township will likely spend more than it recoups over that time.
The current quarterly sewer rates stand at $541 per household -- $2,164 a year – which Heinrich proposed will remain the same, with no increase.
“There is a lot of downside potential, anything from inflation to exactly what emergency repairs we might have,” Heinrich said. “We’re certainly not comfortable, unfortunately, in reducing rates, but we want to make every attempt not to increase rates.”
Heinrich and Otteni said that ratepayers in the Ashford Sewer System can better maintain its condition by incorporating at-home practices such as not flushing fats, oils and greases down their sinks, as well as drain cleaners, pesticides, paint and paint thinners, paper towels, bones, eggshells, coffee grounds – and most especially, flushable wipes.
Moving forward, Heinrich and Otteni urged residents to contact the township.
“Communication is key,” Otteni said. “If there is something you don’t understand, call us. I would rather address a question than have misinformation or no information that leads to guessing, and when people guess they speculate, and speculation never leads to a good thing.”
‘The options are complicated’
Following the presentation, township representatives heard from residents whose homes are tied into the Ashford Sewer System. Former township supervisor Whitney Hoffman – who is also a ratepayer in the system – asked whether or not the system has the capacity to tie into more homes in the vicinity, which if conducted, would potentially change the per home rate payment scenario.
“Because of the depth of research that has gone into creating this report, and the depth of understanding of capacity and history, that certainly makes it more feasible to consider whether it is possible to add more [homes],” said supervisor Scudder Stevens. “We are creating a more cohesive plan in the long run with Ashford Sewer System, but I have a recollection that there had been discussions with other HOAs about coming in, and that [the proposal to tie in to the system] had been rejected.”
Otteni said that at most, one home or two could eventually be added to the system.
“We’re not going to add another 20 homes and cut anyone’s costs in half,” he said.
Hoffman suggested that the township include a once-a-year one-sheet of information in its invoices to Ashford Sewer System customers that provides tips on at-home safety practices, which will lead to more compliance.
While township officials admitted that the report and subsequent presentation does not answer all of the questions regarding the system and its history, its projected future and its impact on its customers, it does provide a platform for continued monitoring and open communication with residents.
“The options are complicated, but we are open to looking at them as you can see from the reports that have been generated, all of the details and time and efforts spent with our engineers trying to find something that works better than what is currently there or improves on what is already there, to make it better,” Stevens said. “We’re trying to do that.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].