Two water authorities are tired of the politics

PAT FRIDGEN, Echo Pilot

Politics must go if a merge of water systems is ever going to be successful, agreed members of Antrim Township Municipal Authority and Greencastle Area Franklin County Water Authority on Monday night.

The boards met jointly again to try to move the initiative forward, though GAFCWA manager Susan Armstrong said the committee had “barely limped” for months. Greencastle representatives on Dec. 16 were Jason Gerhart, Robert Miller, Bud O’Mara and Greg Rock. ATMA representatives were Rodney Eberly, Dale Hostetter, Chad Murray, Antrim Township administrator Brad Graham and Antrim public works director Carl Rundquist.

All agreed that at some point a stand-alone authority would exist to serve the water needs of the borough and township. Puzzling to O’Mara, not a native of the area, was why grudges and perceived slights in the past affected the decisions of elected officials today. The sale of the ATMA water system had been approved by both authorities in 2009, but ran into snags with the board of supervisors, which agreed to the purchase in January 2011, but then reneged due to confusion on language about exemptions from mandatory water connections.

Eberly, a lifelong resident, also did not like that politics appeared to play a role with both council members and supervisors. Greencastle had spent a significant amount of money on a financial feasibility study, and then Antrim had blocked the sale.

“Shame on us if we spend customers’ money (on another study) and end up like before,” he said vehemently. He wanted assurance that the elected people would support a merge if a study indicated it was in the best interest of the public.

Graham added, “The authority should run for customers, not for constituents. Right now that’s the hurdle.”

Though Buchart Horn had been selected to write a request for proposal (RFP) for engineering firms to conduct a feasibility study, a committee of the two authorities had not had time to meet to create the guidelines for the RFP. That committee morphed into one with a different purpose Monday. O’Mara, Gerhart, Rundquist and Eberly agreed to meet in January for an intensive worksession to do as much legwork as they could in finding common ground. They wanted to pinpoint a direction for combining the authorities, and come up with a couple concepts to give to Buchart Horn engineer Diana Young before an RFP was sent out. Everyone preferred that the local bodies determine the focus, rather than having an outside firm tell them how to run a single water  authority.

Rundquist also suggested putting a “toe in the water” with a pre-study, rather than a full-fledged and expensive analysis. Armstrong said she and Young had already considered that possibility.