Sewer bills set to rise in stages

June 24th, 2015 10:45 pm

First Posted: 3/27/2013

Wyoming Valley Sanitary Authority customers in 36 municipalities must pay graduated rate hikes that eventually will amount to $60 more per year to fund a range of capital improvements totaling $17.4 million.

The increase will go up in stages from $160 per household annually to $220 in 2017.

Customers will pay $184 annually next year for wastewater treatment and improvements, $196 in 2015 and $208 in 2016.

An initial rate hike of $6 — $3 per quarter — will take effect in the second half of this year.

However, residential customers can avoid this year’s hike if they pay the full 2013 payment at the old rate, instead of making quarterly payments.

Rate increases for industrial and commercial properties will vary based on usage.

The authority, which treats wastewater from drains and toilets, last increased annual rates about $30 six years ago, said authority Acting Executive Director James Tomaine.

“We understand the economic conditions. We’re trying to raise the rate gradually so it doesn’t hit people all at once,” Tomaine said.

The authority has imposed spending reductions to cover rising operating expenses, inScluding higher utility costs, he said. The authority employs 110, down from 147 six years ago, he said.

“The board has been very tough. We tried to hold the line,” he said.

The most expensive item on the capital repairs to-do list is $4.9 million for incinerator modifications. The incinerator processes about 144 tons of biomass sludge per day, and new federal regulations in effect throughout the country have imposed more limitations on pollutants, particularly mercury, Tomaine said.

The authority’s incinerator, which has been operating since the Hanover Township-based treatment facility near the Susquehanna River became went on line in 1969, essentially needs a heavy-duty, specialized filter to reduce pollutants, he said.

Another $1.2 million will be spent replacing a 66-inch steel main line that feeds all wastewater from the Wyoming Valley into the treatment plant. The pipe, also in use since 1969, has deteriorated from past chlorination. The replacement cost will double if the authority puts off the work and waits for an emergency, Tomaine said.

Wastewater must be diverted to auxiliary locations at the plant for treatment while this 100-foot-long header pipe is replaced, he said.

An average 50 million gallons of wastewater are sent to the treatment facility daily, though the flow has been as high as 115 million gallons during storms that force additional runoff into drainage systems.

Roughly $150,000 has been earmarked for “nutrient removal upgrades” primarily funded by another $2.7 million in state and federal grants. This improvement will add large blowers that pump more oxygen into wastewater to improve the quality of treated water that ends up in the Susquehanna River, he said.

Some other improvements on the list: plant repairs, $3.7 million; force mains and pumping stations, $2.8 million; collection and diversion chambers, $1.25 million; vehicles, $1 million; office and building equipment, $139,465; combined sewage overflow, $700,000; and River Street pipe lining and repair, $755,000.

A $425,000 grit washing system also is in the plans. Grit is the fine gravel from salting and cindering area roadways. The system removes slime that clings to the grit so it dries out and weighs less to reduce landfill disposal costs based on tonnage, Tomaine said.

The vehicle purchases will primarily be heavy equipment, such as a combination vacuum/flushing truck costing about $300,000, he said.

The pumping station repairs will include roofing and electrical upgrades at some of the 59 stations, which force wastewater up inclines to the treatment facility.