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Londonderry residents want public sewer lines, concerned about putting in new septic systems

By Laura Hayes

laurahayes@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 12/5/18

Several residents asked Londonderry Township leaders at a recent meeting: When will public sewer lines come to Londonderry Estates?

Jay Meyer, who lives on Woodcrest Drive, said his septic system …

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Londonderry residents want public sewer lines, concerned about putting in new septic systems

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Several residents asked Londonderry Township leaders at a recent meeting: When will public sewer lines come to Londonderry Estates?

Jay Meyer, who lives on Woodcrest Drive, said his septic system is more than 30 years old. It isn’t going to last much longer, and then he will have to spend $20,000 to $30,000 to replace it, Meyer said. So will other residents in a similar situation.

Under the timeline proposed in the township’s Sewage Facilities Act report, public sewer service might come to the development in the next several years, which Meyer said means they would have limited use of their potentially newly installed septic systems.

“What we’re trying to avoid is having to spend that money prior then having to turn around and pay for a connection to a sewer. So that’s why it’s very important to us. We’re not going to let this issue sit,” Meyer said.

He was one of three Londonderry Estates residents who spoke at the Nov. 5 board meeting.

Under the 1966 Pennsylvania Sewage Facilities Act, known as the Act 537, municipalities are required to develop sewage facilities plan. Its purpose is to prevent future sewage problems and protect residents’ health and safety and water throughout the state.

Londonderry’s plan was updated in March 2015 and submitted to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection in February 2016. It calls for public sewer systems in Londonderry Estates and Sewer Districts No. 2 and 3 and enforcing an ordinance that manages on-lot disposal systems, called OLDS.

“We’re aware of the 537 Plan,” township manager Steve Letavic told the Londonderry Estates residents. “We’ve been working on it on many fronts, not just the issue within your development, but there’s an issue in Braeburn, there are some issues identified on the Route 230. The issue we’ve had is funding.”

He said that the township has been enforcing the OLDS ordinance.

“We’ve been diligently working on not only sanitary sewer issues and solutions, but also how can we partner, how can we create growth in this township and businesses so that cost doesn’t fall squarely on the backs of our taxpayers,” Letavic said.

If raising taxes is what it would take to bring public sewer to the development, Meyer said he would rather do that than put in a new sand mound.

“We certainly love this township. We love being here. We love all the things about it that you guys love, which is that it’s rural and we’ve got a beautiful area. But we still have to be able to function at a 20th century level,” Meyer said.

Act 537 Plan explained

The Londonderry plan when submitted to the DEP in 2016  called for inter-municipal agreements to convey public sewer lines to both the Derry Township Municipal Authority and the Middletown Borough Authority, which no longer exists.

The Middletown authority was dissolved as a legal entity in spring 2016, as a result of Middletown’s decision to lease operation of the borough’s water and sewer systems for 50 years to Suez, a private company. The lease went into effect on Jan. 1, 2015. It’s not clear how the plan would be affected by the elimination of Middletown’s authority.

The sewers in Londonderry Estates would be conveyed to the Derry Township Municipal Authority. The plan calls for the system to be fully operational five years after the plan is approved by the DEP. Londonderry’s plan estimates that this project would cost $1,510,704.

Londonderry Estates is not the only area in the township where public sewer would be constructed. The plan also calls for public sewer systems to be constructed in what is known as Sewer District No. 2 and 3. Sewer District No. 2 is bordered by the Swatara Creek to the west, and portions of the district are bordered by Derry Township to the north. Parts of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, Route 283 and Route 230 run through the district.

Sewer District No. 3 is in the southeastern portion of the township, bordered by West Donegal Township to the south, Conewago Township to the east and Route 283 to the north.

The plan called to install systems from these two sewer districts that would be conveyed to the Middletown Borough Authority. This total project cost is estimated at $24,951,096 and would be operational within 10 years.

If public sewer can’t be hooked up to these two sewer districts, the plan calls for a third option to provide public sewer to Braeburn subdivision, Pine Manor mobile home park, and North Deodate Road. These areas are immediate needs in Sewer District No. 3, according to the plan. This project is estimated to cost $6,814,420, according to the plan.

The plan recommends financing the project through grants, low-interest loans and tapping fees of $4,000 per equivalent dwelling unit. The plan said that user rates of over $100 a month may be a financial burden on township residents and recommended rates near $59 a month per equivalent dwelling unit.

According to the plan, the only public sewer facilities in Londonderry are in Sewer District No. 1, which is in the northwest portion of the township to the south of Derry Township and to the east of the Swatara Creek. A majority of township homes use what is known as on-lot disposal systems, or systems such as holding tanks and elevated sand mounds. In the plan, the township’s engineering firm HRG estimated that 796 homes in Sewer District No. 2 and 3 and Londonderry Estates had on-lot disposal systems.

In the plan, HRG notes that while they were surveying residents’ sanitary systems, some of the residents had complaints with their on-lot disposal systems, such as odors, ponds of water and sewage and undersized systems.

HRG staff wrote that during the surveys, staff observed evidence of system malfunctions. Of the total 796 homes, HRG received responses from 341 residences. The plan states that there was a total of 50 confirmed on-lot disposal system malfunctions, including eight in Londonderry Estates. There were another 49 suspected malfunctions and another 45 potential malfunctions.

HRG staff wrote that there may be more malfunctioning systems in Londonderry Estates and Sewer District No. 3 than the survey indicated.

“A majority of the parcels surveyed in both of these districts have OLDS that preceded current legislation, are located less than 100 feet from their private wells, soil suitability, and subsequently would not be permitted by today’s standards,” the plan read.

According to the plan, if public sewer is provided to these areas, malfunctioning on-lot disposal systems could be abandoned along with wastewater treatment plants at three mobile home parks.

On the market

Neighbors in Londonderry Estates have been talking about the issue, and some residents have had difficulty when they tried to put their homes on the market, said Londonderry Estates residents Pattie and John Blair.

“We’ve been reading the plan and looking into it as a number of us have been dealing with sewage problems within our Londonderry Estates development,” Pattie said.

As Pattie recalled, two homeowners tried to put their homes on the market but ran into issues with their septic systems. She said they failed the test when it came to sewage. One homeowner had to reduce the price by $10,000, and the other felt like their only option was to put in a new sand mound.

“They’re quite frustrated. In some cases, people just gave up and said, ‘I can’t sell it because I’m not going to put a $20,000 sand mound in,’” Pattie said.

Meyer argued that people aren’t willing to build in the township without public water and sewer.

For the past several years, there have been talks of two new housing developments in Londonderry — Lytle Farms and School Heights Village. They would be in Sewer District No. 2 and 3, respectively.

School Heights Village is a 986-home development on 197 acres behind Saturday’s Market. The plan calls for single family homes, townhouses, apartments and commercial spaces.

Lytle Farms is a 1,600-home development made up of homes, condos, townhouses, apartments, retail spaces and offices on about 340 acres bordered by the Swatara Creek to the west, Iron Mine Road to the north and parts of Foxianna Road to the south.

The land was sold to Tuck-A-Way LLC for $4.6 million in 2009.

Letavic said the township partnered with a developer who committed to bring a sewer line to Lytle Farms.

“He has fallen into failing health and because of that, he’s liquidating his assets. … The downturn in the housing market in 2008 absolutely crushed that development. That development was set to go, and set to go with a commitment from that developer to bring the infrastructure,” Letavic said.

He said the township has been applying for grants, and working to bring on another developer to help bring sewer to the development. Township engineer Andrew Kenworthy said the township has received grant funds to bring a public waterline from Vine Street to Lytle Farms.

Pattie said they talked to Derry Township officials, who said they hadn’t heard from Londonderry.

“DEP’s opinion, it’s going to happen. Are you saying it’s not going to happen now?” said Londonderry Estates resident Tom Jones.

Letavic contended that the township has talked to Derry Township Municipal Authority and DEP recently. DEP, he said, supported the township’s efforts and was willing to give the township an extension.

“We can’t sit here and hope that we get some type of an extension, and will the extension be too late for all the people that have 30-, 40-year-old septic systems,” Meyer said.

As John Blair sees it, this is going to affect everyone sooner rather than later.

“It seems clear that growth and development is going to rely on solving the sewer problem,” Blair said.