Greencastle, Antrim officials: Water system sale in jeopardy

PAT FRIDGEN
The Antrim Township Municipal Authority water plant (at right) is located on Sherwood Drive and serves 330 customers.

Negotiations between Greencastle Area, Franklin County, Water Authority and Antrim Township Municipal Authority were thrown a loop Dec. 14 when the board of supervisors added clauses to a purchase offer GAFCWA submitted Nov. 22. Greencastle wants to purchase ATMA's water system in order to add capacity to support present and future needs in the area.

Now officials from both municipalities are privately admitting they are not confident that the transfer of ownership will actually take place. One point of contention is a new stipulation that the sale won't occur unless a mandatory connection requirement is altered. An Antrim Township ordinance requires that any improved property within 150 feet of a water system must connect within 90 days of notification by the township or authority. PA Act 34 of 2008 also requires the connection.

Supervisors Fred Young III, Samuel Miller, Rick Baer, Curtis Myers and James Byers discussed Greencastle's purchase offer at length. Young introduced changes he wanted in the document, though ATMA voted 3-2 in favor of the sale in November. ATMA chair Bob Coladonato, Bob Schemmerling and Chad Murray were content with the purchase option, Rodney Eberly and Elwood Myers were not.

Among the changes Young sought were that mandatory connections be based on when water lines were constructed, that Antrim get two representatives on the five-member authority in perpetuity, and if the board size grew Antrim would get proportionally more members. He passed out his concepts on paper for the other supervisors to read.

During public discussion, references were made to Hess, and sections of Bemisderfer Road, Williamsport Pike and Hykes Road. The general reflection was that the latter three areas were allowed a type of waiver when lines were run nearby years ago, but Hess activity took place at about the same time as the state law went into effect.

After an executive session, the board vote on the sale of the ATMA water system. A Miller/Myers motion to send the agreement with changes back to Greencastle passed 5-0.

The Hess story

Three years ago mandatory connections became an issue for one neighborhood in the township.

In February 2007, residents on Kimberly, Lynn and Lee drives were notified by GAFCWA that a new water main would soon be installed within 150 feet of their homes, and they would have to connect to the public system. The residents in the older development were surprised and apprehensive of the $6,000 cost they would have to bear. A fact sheet was presented opposing the requirement, singling out the affected households with the reasons they should be exempt. The reasons included age, health, recent relacements of well equipment and single income. Young, who lives at 569 Lynn Drive, said he had replaced his water and electrical line from the well to his house, which required excavation and significant plumbing costs. His was also a single income family. After negotiations, Antrim Township and GAFCWA reached a settlement in April 2008 and it was signed by Antrim supervisors June 10. Young recused himself from the vote. Part of the wording of the agreement said the facts had been discussed in good faith at a meeting with two members each from the authority and township, and the manager of both municipalities.

The agreement cited Antrim ordinance 266 (it appears as ordinance 143 in the latest codebook), adopted Sept. 12, 2000, and named the properties in the jurisdiction. On Kimberly Drive it was house numbers 11634, 11648, 11665, 11686, 11706. On Lee Drive it was 645. On Lynn Drive it was 570, 569, 606, 623 and 644. It acknowledged the situation was unique, therefore concessions were allowed for the Hess residents. As established together by the township and authority, they were: the connection fee was reduced to $3,535. Payment could be financed one year at zero percent interest. The deadline for hookup was July 1, 2016 or before a property changed ownership.

The agreement continued that Antrim's ordinance had been adopted on Sept. 12, 2000, and if it affected other areas of the township, the same rules would apply. The authority insisted the ordinance served as a basis for ensuring revenue to meet present and future financial requirements for a viable system.

At the time, Antrim solicitor John Lisko said, "It's a reasonable compromise to a difficult situation."

Ongoing talks

Greencastle expressed interest in purchasing Antrim's system in 2009. Both sides agreed to the concept that April and Greencastle began conducting due diligence, using the expertise of Edward S. Goodhart and Associates of Shippensburg. It made an offer in June 2010, and the document volleyed since then as both authorities and municipalities sought to agree on terms. By October the parties admitted an impasse, so Mike Ross, president of Franklin County Area Development Corporation, moderated a mediation session Nov. 2. FCADC had backed Antrim’s $1.25 million Infrastructure Development Grant to upgrade its water treatment plant this year, since Antrim had no customers waiting in the wings to purchase water.

At the time of the mediation, the purchase price and representation on the regionalized board were cited as the main sticking points. Ross came away from the meeting pleased with the discussion, calling it productive. It was attended by ATMA members Coladonato, Eberly and manager Brad Graham, and GAFCWA members Bob Miller, Greg Rock and manager Kenneth Womack.

Greencastle received the newest suggestions Monday morning and addressed them in executive session Monday night. Solicitor Jan Sulcove said, "Nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to."

The board was encouraged that ATMA had supported the offer and curious about the changes from the supervisors. They could not understand why the mandatory connection issue was tied in to the sale of the water system.

"It shouldn't have anything to do with it," said Miller. "Mandatory connections are necessary or no lender will work with you. The system couldn't be feasible if service was voluntary."

He also stressed that the authority was enforcing Antrim's ordinance when it served Antrim customers.

The authority pointed out that as far as representation, the law said borough council made all appointments for the five seats, and terms were on a rotation of five years, with one person up each year.

Greencastle serves 1,700 borough customers and 455 township customers. Its’ water plant can process 1.6 million gallons per day. Antrim serves 340 customers and the expanded plant will be able to handle 800,000 gallons daily.

Womack said Tuesday morning GAFCWA had reviewed the changes to the agreement and was preparing a response. The language of the township’s changes on mandatory connections would affect Hess, since the development was in Greencastle’s territory, but not Bemisderfer, Williamsport Pike or Hykes, since they were ATMA customers, he said. He was not aware of any other part of the township that could have issues. He also added that GAFCWA would not make exceptions to its rules, but would honor any previous agreements between ATMA and its customers.

Graham said ATMA, which met Dec. 20, a week early due to the holidays, had reviewed the supervisors’ changes, but took no action.

Young did not return two calls for comment.