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Lancaster Twp. approves plans for sewage plant upgrade

Lancaster Township officials on Monday unanimously approved the sewer authority’s plan for a new treatment facility and administrative building.

If approved by all four Western Butler County Authority municipalities — Jackson and Lancaster townships as well as Harmony and Zelienople — the plan, officially called an Act 537 Plan, will need approval from the state Department of Environmental Protection, or DEP, before its implementation. In addition to Lancaster, Harmony has approved the Act 537 Plan.

The sewage plan, which calls for a roughly $65 million water pollution control plant, or WPCP, and administrative building upgrade, was originally proposed to the authority’s members in November 2020, but was delayed by more than a year and a half after two municipalities — including Lancaster — called into question whether the plan was the most cost-effective possibility.

Part of the delay was receiving an opinion from a third party on whether the authority’s WPCP plan was the most effective. For that purpose, the authority formed a steering committee with members from each municipality, which contracted Larson Design Group, an external engineering firm, to conduct a third-party review.

“We agree that a WPCP upgrade is required, the selected biological (treatment) process is appropriate, the proposed rate increases seem reasonable, and the project seems financially feasible,” the firm concluded in March.

As a result of the third-party review, the authority has made some changes to the plan prior to municipal approval. Autumn Crawford, the authority president, said most of the changes include added detail and corrections to inconsistent information in the original plan.

“We had more detail than we did when the 537 was first submitted, so we included that level of detail in the revised 537 plan,” Crawford said.

Although prices have steadily increased since the November 2020 submission of the plan, Crawford said the authority plans to keep the cost to the original proposal’s $65 million figure.

This, Crawford said, would be accomplished by scaling back on some features, primarily in the administrative building. For instance, she said, the authority would use a traditional heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, rather than the originally proposed geothermal heating and cooling.

“We're trying to hold to the same budget constrictions that we set out two years ago, now,” she said.

Should all four municipalities approve the plan, it could take years before construction even begins, Crawford said. The authority will submit the plan to the DEP, receive comments from the department, then respond to the comments and submit for final approval.

“Once it's submitted and approved by DEP, that's probably a two-, two-and-a-half-year process before we even get to bidding,” Crawford said.

Harmony Pump Station

Although upgrades to the Harmony Pump Station were part of the original Act 537 Plan proposal, the authority bifurcated the pump station from the remainder of the plan when the proposal was temporarily halted by the third-party review.

Because of that, the pump station — which received approval from all four municipalities by April — has already received the first round of comments from the DEP, to which the authority has already responded.

“That is in DEP's hands awaiting final comment and review,” Crawford said.

Crawford estimated the Harmony project would go to bid within the next year to year and a half.