The Lehigh County Authority (LCA), along with state and local government officials, announced at a press conference earlier today that the Vera Cruz sewer construction project has been awarded a $1 million grant from the H2O PA program. The afternoon event was held at the former Vera Cruz Elementary School.
Established by the Pennsylvania General Assembly in July 2008, the H2O PA program has allocated more than $650 million in funding for water and sewer projects across Pennsylvania since its inception.
State Rep. Doug Reichley R-Lehigh stressed that the funding from H2O PA does not come from taxpayers.
“It’s gambling money, not tax dollars,” Reichley said. “This is not going to have an impact on the state budget. The money comes from the Sands and the 13 other casinos located in Pennsylvania."
The funding was awarded based on a competitive grant writing and evaluation process, Reichley explained, adding that the $1 million set aside for Vera Cruz is the highest funding award out of this year’s PA H2O program.
Asa Hughes, LCA board chairman, detailed some of the history of the project, stating that pubic sewers in Vera Cruz have been a “hot topic” for more than 20 years.
He said that the need for public sewers is prompted by the fact that about 85 percent of the on-lot septic systems in the town are either confirmed or suspected of failing. While the environmental issues related to failing septic systems are clear, he said, the costs of the sewer construction project – originally estimated at about $20,000 per household – made progress on the project difficult, he explained.
Last year, according to Hughes, the LCA and Upper Milford Township, determined it was time to move forward with the sewer project. The system was designed and put out to bid and residents were told at a public meeting earlier this year that estimated per household costs had been brought down to about $9,000 per household through additional funding that had been secured at that time.
The H2O PA grant will bring that estimated cost down even further for the 261 properties required to hook into the system, according to Lehigh County Authority Capital Works Manager Frank Leist.
Leist explained the impact of this latest grant by dissecting the $9,000 price tag – $6,100 of which falls into the category “private plumbing costs” and $2,900 of which comes from the cost associated with tapping into the public sewer system.
It’s the latter cost that will be impacted by the H2O PA grant, Leist said. In all, Upper Milford has received about $2.5 million in grant monies for the Vera Cruz sewer project, he said.
“None of that can be used for private plumbing costs,” he said. In addition, he said, there is about $400,000 available to help with private plumbing costs through a county Community Development Block grant program for lower income communities and households.
The connection fees will be recalculated in the coming weeks, Leist said, and new costs will be shared with Vera Cruz residents when they are available.
“The numbers need to be reevaluated,” Leist said, “but it should reduce the connection costs by at least 50 percent if not more.”
Leist pointed out that the additional funds coming into the project will also help to reduce the overall debt associated with the construction and help to ensure that the annual sewer usage fees paid by residents remain reasonable.
He said fees should average about $352 per year or about $30 per month. “That’s less than a cell phone bill,” he said.
Steve Ackerman, chairman of the Upper Milford Township Board of Supervisors, said that both the grant announcement and the fact that the Vera Cruz sewer project is now underway are evidence that hard work and tenacity does ultimately pay off.
“This has been a long and arduous process and we are finally getting it off the ground," he said. "I believe that this is a great day for Upper Milford.”
Construction on the first phase of the public sewer system began a month ago. Residents can expect the first set of connections to occur this summer and final completion of the three-phase project is targeted for early 2012.