Hess residents challenge Greencastle Water Authority on water hookups

PAT FRIDGEN

The neighbors in the Hess Development who oppose connecting to public water plan to attend the June 15 meeting of Greencastle Area Franklin County Water Authority. They already received a denial from GAFCWA manager Kenneth Womack on their request for an extension from July 1 to Sept. 15 to decide whether to sign an agreement with the authority.

GAFCWA sent the 10 affected households a letter May 25 requiring them to hook up to public water in accordance with an Antrim Township ordinance within 90 days of the date of the notice. They were also given the opportunity to delay the connection if they signed the agreement by the due date. They could then connect by July 1, 2019, or have any new buyer connect if the house was sold before that end date.

The authority took the action after the matter was tabled for several years while it investigated the possibility of purchasing the Antrim Township Municipal Authority water system. Though close to a deal, it has not been finalized, due in part to the connection issue. Supervisor Fred Young III, who lives in Hess, is one of three on the five-member board opposed to selling Antrim’s system until the residents are waived from connection.

Hess resident Mark Staley replied to Womack in a letter, which he also submitted to the Echo Pilot. He wanted more time to consider the points in the agreement. He received the notice by restricted mail delivery on the Friday before Memorial Day and therefore couldn’t discuss anything immediately with the parties involved. He wanted to ask Antrim Township and GAFCWA for more information and to file Right-to-Know requests, and believed he could not collect everything until at least June 17. Therefore, the water authority meeting this Wednesday was too early for him to enter into any “knowledgeable discussion”, so he wanted the extension.

Womack responded June 7 to Staley and Mary Ann Young, as well as other petitioners, that the fully executed agreement still needed to be returned by July 1 or the authority would take appropriate action to compel the connection.

Staley was concerned that Womack was acting on his own by his quick replies. He thought the answer would come June 15 at the public meeting. Womack said Tuesday the letter for an extension expressed urgency with its conclusion, “I respectfully request hearing a response regarding this matter in a timely fashion.”

Womack said he had consulted solicitor Jan Sulcove and authority members before sending out the reply letter.

The problem

In the spring of 2007 a developer ran a water line through the Hess Development to serve Shadow Creek across Williamsport Pike. As people bought the new homes, they paid the tapping fee for GAFCWA water.

Several of the Hess residents attended Antrim’s Board of Supervisors April 10, 2007 meeting to ask for exemption from connecting to water as required per Antrim Township Code 148. Young was in the audience, and objected to the type of notification they had received - a letter placed on the front doors by the engineer, and he said the homeowners did not wish to connect. The supervisors at the time, Robert Whitmore, James Byers, Curtis Myers, Samuel Miller and Scott Diffenderfer, discussed the issue. The ordinance had been passed in 2000, according to the minutes, to get water to Phase I of the connector road and the water tower. GAFCWA was assigned a service area to protect the ground water aquifers and the intent was to curtail well drilling for new homes.

Then-utilities director Charles Goetz explained the ATMA’s water main project along Hykes Road was accomplished with a low interest loan and Antrim residents were not mandated to connect because no township money was used for the project. However, curb stops were installed and four of eight homeowners did connect to public water.

The Hess visitors asked for support for their cause, as they planned to attend the April 16 meeting of GAFCWA. The supervisors passed a resolution unanimously agreeing to grant a waiver exemption for the 10 households through proper legal channels, if possible.

Womack said this week that the water line did not belong to Antrim and they had no authority to grant a waiver.

On Sept. 25, 2007, then-borough manager Kenneth Myers sent the residents living within 150 feet of the line, as per Antrim’s  ordinance, an invitation to meet with him on Oct. 11. As directed by the water authority, he would explain the process and costs associated with connecting to public water. He said the meeting was for the property owners only, that no board members or elected officials would be present. He wrote that the Hess people should not invite anyone else to the meeting or it would not be held.

Myers wrote another letter Oct. 16, which Staley said all residents received, as they did the previous letter. Myers stated that before the Oct. 11 meeting could be held, Young approached him and said the date did not work for several residents. Myers agreed to reschedule and gave three alternate dates. Young then allegedly contacted the residents and told them the first date was cancelled without first getting back in touch with Myers. Myers went to the meeting and no one from Hess showed up.

In the following week Young and Myers spoke, and none of the alternate dates worked for both sides, therefore Myers mailed the residents the information he had planned to present at the meeting. He asked them to contact him if they had any questions.

The details were: the property owners had one year to connect; they would not get a notice from GAFCWA before Jan. 1, 2008; the authority would work with anyone who had trouble with the cost by setting up a payment plan for up to a year; the authority would waive the distribution fee of $2,470; the connection fee would be $880; and the tapping fee would be $2,655.

At that time the water rates were $7.20 per thousand gallons, with a minimum fee per quarter of $64.80 for 9,000 gallons. Today the fees are $8.40 and $75.60.

The Hess residents refer to Pennsylvania Act 34 of 2008, which they believe exempts them from hooking up to public water.

“In my interpretation, it fully ends this controversial issue,” said Staley.

The exemption criteria includes homes existing before mandatory connection, those having a water supply already safe for human consumption, and whether the owner was required to connect before Sept. 2, 2008.

Staley stressed Antrim’s vote in April 2007, the letter about no authority notice being sent before Jan. 1, 2008, and the fact that one resident was not affected by a different line installed near his home in the 1990s, as proof that Hess should now be exempt.

Womack countered that people had to be covered by all three criteria. Antrim’s motion carried no weight, its ordinance required connection, and the water line was present before the law took effect, he said.

Staley said GAFCWA was trying to force the connection, which was “illegal and absurd.”

Penny Bemisderfer-Reid wrote in a statement, “I am disappoined that they are trying to bully us into hooking up. This is a frivolous attempt. It will cost them time, effort and legal fees to force nine households to connect to public water, which will be passed on to the current customers. This is a matter of principal.”

Kurtis Reid wrote, “They did not even explain to me what it would cost. The tap fees are over $6,000. I do not have that kind of money.”