Sep. 15—JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — More than 200 Westmont Borough residents are each being fined $50 monthly for being out of compliance with the borough’s sewer lateral project, according to the borough.
That’s about $10,000 per month the borough is charging residents in penalty fees. It’s the same amount per month the borough could be fined by the state if it doesn’t meet standards for reducing stormwater infiltration into the regional sewage system.
The borough’s project is mandated by the Department of Environmental Protection, and the deadline to have it completed technically expired in June, though the council has submitted for extensions.
So far, the state hasn’t tested the borough’s sewage output, but if it did, it wouldn’t yet pass the 625-gallon-per-day sewage maximum limit at the Dornick Point Treatment Center, borough sewer inspector Terry Reesey said.
About 60% of the borough’s residents have pressure tested lines and are in compliance, he said.
As the borough seeks to get all residents’ laterals in compliance, there are those such as Ronald Makuchan who’ve felt they’ve been penalized for things they can’t control.
Makuchan and his wife live on Lehigh Street. During the council’s monthly meeting Tuesday at the Luzerne Street municipal building, he presented the council with a letter from the borough saying he that he owed $100 in fines from two months of noncompliance with the sewer project.
But it was his contractor, he said, who never showed up because of COVID-19 and staffing issues.
“How am I responsible for this fine for work that I can’t do myself?” he said.
In February, Makuchan had opted into the Cambria County Sewage Compliance Program, which was set up to help property owners obtain cost- effective means of fixing their sewer laterals. The JRA solicited contractors for him, and he chose the lowest bidder of three options given to him by JRA.
The contractor was to begin work no later than May, he said. But time went on and the borough started tacking on non-compliance fees to his sewer bill, so he called the Redevelopment Authority to resolve the issue.
“The JRA said to take it up with the contractor,” he said. “What am I supposed to do? The contractor said, ‘We had people quit, which delayed us, and then we had instances of COVID.'”
He said he mailed the borough’s notification of the fines to the contractor. Workers subsequently arrived at his home Tuesday to begin working, he said.
Because Makuchan’s contractor was solicited through the JRA’s program and because Makuchan said the contractor has begun working, Councilman Bill Stasko made a motion to stop any further monthly fines for Makuchan.
“There should be no more late digging fees due to fact he has workers on his property and he was a participant in the Redevelopment Authority program with a signed contract,” he said.
Council members Bill Stasko, William Hargreaves, Gordon Smith, and Marc McCall approved the motion.
Council President Don Hall, Thomas Gramling and Christopher DelSignore voted against it. While they said they empathized with Makuchan, they said they had concern that it would set a bad precedent.
“It’s a slippery slope,” Hall said. “Once you make exceptions, you open the door for more.”
While the decision means Makuchan will not get any further fines since the contractor is now working, the $100 owed in fines for the past two months remain unforgiven. The council suggested Makuchan take that up with his contractor.
In addition to the lateral line repairs being conducted at the cost of individual property owners, the borough’s main sewer line repairs are handled by Snyder Environmental Services.
Snyder is expected to complete the project in December.