JMA 10-5-21

A hastily called emergency meeting on Tuesday by the JMA authorized the emergency installation of a 12" water pipe. (Photo by Brian D. Stockman

JOHNSONBURG--An emergency meeting of the Johnsonburg Municipal Authority (JMA) was held on Tuesday beginning at 9 a.m. in Johnsonburg. The only item on the agenda for this meeting was to authorize a new 12" water line to hopefully fix the ongoing distribution problems in some regions of the Borough since the new $14.6 million plant went online several months ago.

An at-times acrimonious meeting between JMA Board members and representatives of Gwin, Dobson & Foreman Engineering (GD&F) highlighted the frustrations of the customer's ongoing water plant. While the new water plant produces water of exceptional quality, getting it through the pipes and to customers in several areas of the city has plagued the JMA since the DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) granted the operating permit on August 13. As one member was quick to note, "Maybe we should not have turned on the plant on Friday the thirteenth."

The new JMA water plant that has been constructed over the last two years was supposed to solve the water woes of "The Paper City." For nearly ten years, the JMA has been under a consent decree from DEP concerning water from both of their old reservoirs. After a detailed study and analysis, the construction of a new water plant, taking water directly from the Clarion River, was selected as the best option for Johnsonburg.

The new plant uses advanced treatment techniques to control iron and manganese, disinfection byproducts, taste, odor, color, pH, organic compounds, coliform bacteria, and pathogen cysts such as cryptosporidium and giardia. The incoming water from the Clarion is conditioned and pretreated using flocculation, coagulation, and sedimentation for oxidation, pH/alkalinity adjustment, and settling enhancement. Sub-micron particle separation is completed using microfiltration technology through the use of a cartridge membrane. The new intake building on First Avenue houses pumps, electrical controls, and an intake screen cleaning system. A gigantic new water storage tank on Third Avene was included to help with water age and whole system turnover times. While the plant itself is operating as designed, customers in many areas of town, especially on Dill Hill and the Siver Creek, began complaining almost immediately about the lack of water and poor pressures at their homes and businesses.

The JMA has instituted a rotating tanker of water, which is replaced as needed, to feed customers in the Dill Hill area. A boil water notice is in place for customers above the Dill Hill tank, and they are instructed to boil their water before consumption. JMA is handling the Silver Creek situation with constant adjustments to the system. These are not viable long-term options, and the JMA Board Members verbally ripped into Josh Gunnett, the Project Engineer, and his superior from the GD&F Engineering, the firm that oversees the new water plant project, and Ken Cadwell, the water plant operator, who promised "there would be no issues" back in August when the JMA board was awaiting the DEP permit to turn the plant on.

The solution, as proposed by JMA and endorsed by Cadwell, involves the installation of a new 12" water line between the Third Avenue tank down to the main distribution line that follows the old route of 219. The proposal put forward to the board would have the work performed by current contractor Continental Construction. Two 12" lines, 3 12" valves, 2 6" tie-ins, and a new 12" tie-in on the Third Avenue tank would be included in the price of $294,570 and includes the material, labor, and landscaping after the work is completed. The contractor has a verbal price lock on the cost of the pipes for the project only until Wednesday, October 6, where the prices are expected to be raised, thus necessitating the emergency meeting on Tuesday.

While GD&F and Cadwell are confident this will solve many of the current issues with the system, "There is no guarantee that this will work at all." said JMA Board Member Thomas Weaver, and echoed by Dennis Asti, the Assistant Secretary/Treasurer of the JMA.

When trying to find out how the engineers even approved the plans for the new water plant without this water line, GD&F produced a record from the initial proposal made in 2016 where the 12" water line was in place. Sometime between those initial plans and the start of construction in 2019, that water line was removed, possibly as a cost-cutting item, but neither JMA nor GD&F can point to anyone or any time those original lines recommended lines were removed from the blueprints. More research will have to be done to find out who decided to remove that section of the waterline.

While the vast majority of the plant has been paid for under a USDA Loan, this new waterline may not be eligible for reimbursement from the USDA Loan, as a USDA decision on the matter is expected to take 60-90 days. Al Joe Maletto, president of the Johnsonburg Borough Council, suggested purchasing the pipe now, at the cost of around $61,000, and wait for the USDA to authorize the construction at a later time. While this suggestion was taken under advisement, James Reinsburrow, JMA Chairman, called for an initial motion on the authorization of the entire $294,570 first. Due to earlier spending on other items, such as a new water truck and tools, the remaining "Contingency" money in the USDA loan funding is only $279,478, which leads to a shortfall of a little over $15,000, which will have to be absorbed by the JMA.

Several customers of the JMA were present at the meeting and expressed their dismay at the whole process, noting that the $14.6 million costs will eventually have to be paid for by customers who are still not receiving the level of service that should be a base standard. Many expressed disappointment with the board members and anger towards the Engineering Firms that signed off on the plans. "How much money are these engineers changing for services that are have not been rendered?" Both customers and JMA board members shared the sentiment.

Reinsburrow, along with Board Member Charles Destephano said, "We have to do this to make sure our customers are taken care of." Earl Park, JMA Vice Chairman, and Kenneth Polaski, JMA Secretary, agreed with that sentiment and favored the proposal. Dennis Asti, the Assistant Secretary/Treasurer of the JMA. and board member Thomas Weaver voted against the proposal, both indicating that they had lost faith with both JHA represented by Engineer Travis Long who was absent from the meeting, and with GD&F. By a four to two vote the proposal to spend the $294,570 to install the new water line was approved.

Continietinal construction will hopefully begin on the project soon, but it may take up to a month. With winter quickly approaching, the Board Members expressed concern about the project being put off until the spring, but no other option presented itself. The JMA wants to assure all customers that their commitment remains the same, to bring high-quality water to all residents of the area and that customers should be alert to phone and mailed notices as well as boil-water notices on the JMA website at johnsonburgmunicipalauthority.com.

The next meeting of the JMA is scheduled for October 13, beginning at 4 p.m. at the Main Office on Market Street. The public is invited to attend,

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