Residents from two Neshannock Township neighborhoods were eager to sign property easements after a Thursday night meeting that explained a proposed sewer project to replace their long-malfunctioning septic systems.

An informational meeting presented by the township supervisors, the township solicitor and the project engineers provided details of the project for more than 50 people who attended a special meeting at Hutchison Center in Pearson Park. Those details included the scope of the project, the associated costs, why the project is needed and the importance of the required easements.

The project will provide sewers with individual grinder pump systems for each of 73 properties in the Blews Acres development off Painter Hill (East Maitland Lane) and the Highland Park area, which involves homes on side streets to the east off of Highland Avenue/Mercer Road.

But getting rid of personal waste does not come cheap.

The township is fronting the cost of construction, but will require the homeowners involved in the project, collectively, to repay the amount. Township supervisor Leslie Bucci said the cost will be amortized for the homeowners and spread out over a length of possibly 20 years, with the township acting as the bank.

The project cost, expected to range between $1.6 to$2 million, will be divided among all of the residents, but amounts won’t be known until bids are received and approved for contracts, she said. When the cost for each household is known, the township will file municipal liens on the properties until the amounts are paid off.

Additional costs to each homeowner will be: a $2,500 tap-in fee; the cost to connect a sewer line from the house to the grinder pump on the property; the cost to connect their electricity to an electrical panel on the grinder pump; and the cost to properly fill in and cap off their existing septic tanks. Residents also will \be charged a minimum$55-per-month sewer user fee, based on their water usage.

The tap-in fees are to be paid when the home is connected to the system.

EASEMENT SIGNING

Several township residents rushed to the front of the meeting room after the presentation, eager to sign easements for the proposed project.

Township solicitor, attorney Louis M. Perrotta, explained the easements have three purposes. One is temporary, for the contractor to enter a property for installation of the sewer and grinder pump. The contractor is responsible for restoring the property as reasonably practical to its original condition, he said. After that, that easement goes away.

The second purpose is to permanently allow the township access to the property from the sewer main to the grinder pump, so that the township can fix any problems that might arise.

The third purpose is to allow emergency access, so that if a property owner is out of state or the property becomes abandoned, the township can go onto the property to repair any problems, Perrotta said.

According to Bucci, 30 homeowners had signed the easements as of Friday morning, and 29 of those were signed after the meeting Thursday night. Another 11 homeowners took the documents home to review them, and the rest will be mailed to the property owners who did not attend the meeting.

Perrotta advised that the municipal liens to be filed on the properties will remain with the properties, should the homeowners sell them before the debt is repaid.

“The township wants to work with the residents any way we can to make the project as affordable and as smooth as possible,” he said.

All of the easements must be signed before the project can be advertised for bid, Bucci told the residents. Only when the township receives and accepts the lowest bids will the supervisors know the total construction costs.

“The quicker we do it, the faster we can move along,” she said Friday. She is hopeful the project can commence during winter months so properties can be restored earlier in the spring.

A STATE MANDATE

Bucci emphasized that the state Department of Environmental Protection is mandating the township to undertake the sewer project, after a study during the revision of its sewage facilities plan about 12 years ago showed that the two areas of homes had a 70 percent rate of malfunctioning septic systems. That report was formalized in 2009, she said.

“Why are we doing this now? We have about 40 homes whose septic systems are malfunctioning severely,” Bucci said. “Some people are not able to use their laundry service in their homes, and we have people who can’t flush their toilets.”

She said the township made several attempts during the past four years to get grants to fund the project, but was unsuccessful because of the overall average income levels of township residents were around \$60,000 and not considered low-to-moderate income.

David Hechmer of Mott MacDonald, the project engineering firm, explained that the main component of the project for each of the homes will be the installation of a grinder pump system with  a 1 1/2-inch discharge pipe that will connect to a sewer main on the street. Horizontal drilling will be used, to minimize the damage to the landscape, he said.

He said the grinder pump will extend about six inches out of the ground. A control panel will indicate whether there is an issue with the system, and electricity from the home will be connected to it, he said. The township will install a sewer main and a connecting sewer lateral to the grinder system, plus the control panel.

The homeowner will be responsible for the connection to the system from where it comes out of the house, to the grinder pump, and a new circuit to connect to the control panel.

Residents who posed questions at the meeting identified themselves only by their house numbers and street names.

A Blews Way resident asked whose responsibility it will be if something in the grinder pump system breaks down. Bucci told him that the homeowner will have to have it repaired.

“They’ve been building these systems since 1970s,”  Bucci said, adding they have proven to be fairly reliable over the years.

A resident of Summit View Drive asked if the residents ultimately are paying for all of the system.

Bucci responded that the township has undertaken others sewer projects since the 1970s, and all of those residents have borne those costs and paid for them, and they have been paying sewer user fees ever since.

“It’s to benefit your home,” she said.