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English Wants Sewer Upgrade Money

Published August 09, 2006 06:15 pm - With Sharon’s embattled wastewater treatment plant serving as a backdrop, U.S. Rep. Phil English Wednesday touted his support for a bill that would establish a clean water trust fund that might someday help pay for upgrades to the facility.

By Jeff Greenburg
Herald Political Writer

SHARON —
With Sharon’s embattled wastewater treatment plant serving as a backdrop, U.S. Rep. Phil English Wednesday touted his support for a bill that would establish a clean water trust fund that might someday help pay for upgrades to the facility.

The $7.5 billion annual fund that would be created by the Clean Water Trust Act would be dedicated to clean water infrastructure programs. Among the beneficiaries, perhaps, might be Sharon’s wastewater plant, which needs more than $30 million in mandated upgrades.

“I’m here in Sharon because Sharon is facing a challenge which is emblematic of the issue,” English said.

He believes there needs to be a more federal investment in sanitary sewer systems, particularly to upgrade older systems, so communities like Sharon can meet the needs of the environment and their citizens.

“If the federal government does not act to establish a dedicated funding method to provide for these much-needed improvements, the American public will have to suffer the consequences for generations,” English said.

Sharon recently borrowed $2 million to pay for engineering services on the plant for renovations that were ordered by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The plan initially called for a $23 million expansion and renovation. Additional renovations on the syphon chamber have pushed the costs to nearly $32 million. Construction is expected to begin early next year, and DEP said the plant must be operational by February 2009.

In an effort to avoid the burden of those costs, Sharon officials are considering selling the plant to Aqua America Inc.

Due to minimal investment, the federal Environmental Protection Agency predicted that the clean water funding gap will be between $300 billion and $500 billion over the next two decades. English noted there’s $8 billion in current unmet needs in Pennsylvania alone.

Acknowledging that $7.5 billion a year for the next five years would be a drop in the bucket, he said it nonetheless would be a way to open the funding door even further in the future.

During that five-year stretch, the fund would provide $38 billion in loans and grants to communities to deal with a growing backlog of projects.

English said the bill has bipartisan support, but is uncertain if, or when, it might gain the necessary support for passage.

“I think realistically we have a good shot of being able to vote it through this year,” English said. “... There’s almost a universal recognition that this issue has to go forward.”

The Clean Water Act was signed into law in 1965 to restore and maintain the integrity of America’s water infrastructure, but current funding fails to address today’s needs, English said.

Sharon Councilwoman Jennifer Barborak said she’s concerned about the quality of the water in the Shenango River declining due to an increase in raw sewage being dumped into it because of the poor quality of the treatment plant.

 
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