Faced with a lengthy court appeal and growing legal expenses, Ursina Borough Council decided to relocate its pending sewage treatment plant at a meeting Wednesday.
Council approved a motion to relocate the $3.5 million plant from a community ball field to property owned by local resident Eldon Sechler along Hogback Road. Sechler has agreed to donate the land, according to council.
The project, which is five years in the making, has been delayed by several factors since its early planning stages.
Local business owner Len Benyak and other residents expressed disapproval with council’s choice to build the state-mandated plant in a community ball field.
Benyak said the site is so close to his bed and breakfast that it would drive customers away and slash his profits. Its visibility from Route 281, which runs through Ursina, was another complaint among some residents.
He filed an appeal against council’s decision, questioning the borough’s ownership of the ball field. He also questioned whether the site is suitable for a sewage plant, because it was recently classified as a wetland by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
In an attempt to move the project forward and avoid legal expenses, council finally agreed to relocate the site.
“I’m happy that the ball field will remain with the kids in town,” said Benyak, who was unable to attend Wednesday’s meeting. “Obviously, there was a lot of planning that went in prior to the vote.”
Relocating the plant will mean additional building and planning costs. Engineers must build lines beneath Laurel Hill Creek to ensure nearly every residence in the borough is hooked into the system.
“There aren’t a lot of good places to put that plant. There really, truly isn’t,” engineer Josh Kalp of Somerset-based The EADS Group said.
Tap-in fees will likely increase from about $500 to $2,000, according to Kalp. A $500,000 grant from the Redevelopment Authority of Somerset County should cover the cost of residents’ tap-in fees.
Councilwoman Shirley Metheney said she is glad to see the long-awaited project finally moving forward after reaching a standstill late last year.
“The more this project is delayed, the more it costs the people of Ursina,” she said.
Kalp now estimates project construction will begin in spring 2014. Residents’ sewage bills are expected to be roughly $40 per month once the plant is finished.
Council’s resolution came as a relief to Benyak, who once offered to buy the ball field from the borough in a last ditch attempt to prevent construction. His $150,000 offer was refused, however, when council was unable to produce a deed for the property.
He said he no longer plans to buy the ball field unless someone threatens its use in the future.
“Until someone can come up with an ownership, I’m going to reserve that vision,” he said. “Nobody has been able to prove ownership yet.”
Benyak said he regrets that so much tax money was spent on surveying the land and preparing it to be used as a sewage plant site.
“I’m not sure why we had to spend an awful lot of taxpayer money to get to the decision we did,” he said. “As I said to others today, I did not create a wetland. It was there from the very beginning. I’ll never understand why we as taxpayers spent the money we did on wetlands.”