PENNSYLVANIA'S #1 WEEKLY NEWSPAPER • locally owned since 1854

Legal fight between township, Highspire continues; wastewater, Rosedale Manor at issue

By Laura Hayes

laurahayes@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 9/4/19

It’s been more than a year since Lower Swatara Township and its municipal authority sued Highspire borough and the borough authority, alleging that the borough was overcharging the township for …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Legal fight between township, Highspire continues; wastewater, Rosedale Manor at issue

Lower Swatara Township and municipal authority has sued Highspire Borough and its borough authority, alleging that the borough has overcharged the township for treating its wastewater.
Lower Swatara Township and municipal authority has sued Highspire Borough and its borough authority, alleging that the borough has overcharged the township for treating its wastewater.
staff photo by laura hayes
Posted

It’s been more than a year since Lower Swatara Township and its municipal authority sued Highspire borough and the borough authority, alleging that the borough was overcharging the township for discharging its waste into the Highspire Wastewater Treatment Plant.

The case has been in the Court of Common Pleas since it was filed in June 2018, and the most recent document filed was the township’s attorney, Michael McAuliffe Miller, certifying that the complaint was served to Highspire in July 2018.

But the township released a statement on Tuesday that the “township’s attempt to engage in mediation with the borough to resolve the issues has been unsuccessful” and Highspire was “refusing” to work with Lower Swatara on a township stormwater project in Rosedale Manor.

“Unfortunately, it now appears as if the parties will be compelled to move further into the litigation to resolve the issues which divide them,” said township manager Betsy McBride.

She said the township decided to release its statement to keep ratepayers apprised of the situation, and the township will proceed with the litigation in state court.

The township needed about 70 easements for the project — a mixture of temporary and permanent. Lower Swatara asked Highspire for two temporary easements and two permanent easements, which according to Director of Public Works Lester Lanman were near the southern end of Hanover Street and the township park off Mountain View Road and Market Street Extended.

“When asked to officially sign off on the easements, the borough indicated that unless the township withdrew its complaint over the [Wastewater Treatment Plant] dispute, the borough would not provide its consent to the easements,” the township said in the statement.

Highspire solicitor Adam Zei said the borough is committed to working on a settlement between the municipalities. He said the borough recently extended a “global settlement offer” to Lower Swatara that covered all outstanding issues, but he said the borough received no response.

He said the borough disagreed with Lower Swatara’s description of the recent mediation as unsuccessful “as both sides were able to establish a dialogue and reach an agreement in principle on a few issues, including the necessity to amend the current sewer agreement to include a valid termination clause.”

“The borough of Highspire is disappointed Lower Swatara Township has decided to attempt to litigate its issues with the Borough in the press,” Zei said.

Lawsuit explained

In addition to asking for more than $500,000, the township asked the court to rule that the agreement between Highspire and Lower Swatara wasn’t perpetual and the township could give the borough its intent to terminate the agreement if it wants to.

A majority of Lower Swatara’s waste is treated at the Highspire Wastewater Treatment Plant. According to McBride, the township was still sending its waste to Highspire.

In the complaint, Miller contends that Highspire hasn’t met its obligations under a transportation and treatment agreement from 1986, which was to be effective “until it is terminated.”

Under the agreement, Highspire had specific obligations including operating and maintaining the sewer facilities in good and efficient operation. The borough was also to make all related records available to Lower Swatara, keep accounting records for the basis of charges and deliver an annual financial statement to Lower Swatara.

Highspire was also supposed to prepare a budget, and if the budget isn’t approved by the township, Highspire was to meet with Lower Swatara to come up with a budget.

Lower Swatara was to be responsible for 64 percent of treatment plant-related expenses only. Miller argued that Highspire has been allocating other expenses — including collection and conveyance of sewer costs — to the township.

He said Highspire has also “unreasonably retained excessive fees paid by the township for annual flow based on the borough’s overestimations of fees owed,” likening it to an interest-free loan that is paid back in an “unreasonably delayed fashion.”

In the press release, the township said that the township has been allocating unrelated costs or using “unreasonable” percentages to distribute borough costs to the fund since at least 2008, though that’s as far back as Lower Swatara has data.

Lower Swatara in the complaint argues that it has tried to work with Highspire to resolve the issue, including requesting access to examine records and facilities. When the 2018 sewer budget was presented to the township, Lower Swatara asked for clarification on budget allocations, saying Highspire assigned a higher percentage of expenses than the township believed to be appropriate to the wastewater treatment plant. It also asked for justification for increases in salaries, group insurance, pension contributions, laboratory costs and equipment costs.

Miller said that the borough responded to their concerns in a February 2018 letter, “largely refusing to correct or acknowledge the township’s concerns.”

“The township believes that these allocations and practices have led to substantial monetary damages to its ratepayers over time,” the township said in its statement.

Rosedale Manor project

According to the township’s statement, when Lower Swatara initially approached Highspire about getting the easements for the project, “the borough gave no indication that the requested minor easements of less than 1,000-square feet combined would be an issue with the borough.”

So the township proceeded.

The multimillion dollar project would addresses flooding issues in Rosedale Manor and move utilities out of private land and into the streets and right-of-ways.

In the statement, the township said when Highspire refused to sign off on the easements, the township had to redesign the project without the easements, which the commissioners unanimously agreed to during their Aug. 21 meeting. McBride said the township was told about it in person.

McBride said eliminating Highspire’s easements led to a slight decrease in the project costs, but with the costs associated with revising the plans, “we are considering it the same cost at the end of the day after the revision.”

Zei said Highspire has an obligation to thoroughly review and evaluate easement requests including the scope and impact of the project. Lower Swatara, he said, told the borough that the requested easements were “only one of multiple potential options available to the township to complete its project.”

Losing Highspire’s easements hasn’t affected the timeline of the project, though. According to McBride, next week the township is to settle on a loan to do the project, and beyond that, work to get permits will begin and commence construction.