Union Township couple pushes to get Geigertown sewer project back on track

Sharon and Dan McGinley own a home on Hay Creek Road in Geigertown in Union Township. A deal to sell Sharon's family home fell through due to delays in the sewer project. 

UNION TWP. — The deal to sell her family home seemed perfect to Sharon McGinley.

A young couple was poised to make their start in the twin house in the village of Geigertown. They had secured the loans for the $147,000 home where Sharon grew up, living a playful country life that would lead to her becoming an artist and illustrator.

All the couple needed was proof that the community's new sewer system was ready to go. But the village's long-awaited and once-disputed system was hung up again and the deal fell through in the summer.

Last week, after much lobbying by McGinley of local and state officials and utilities, the project got moving again: Met-Ed crews brought power to two pump stations to which 115 homes are required to connect.

McGinley of Union Township and her husband, Dan, credit the intervention by the office of state Sen. Katie Muth with moving the project along.

"We were feeling really good," Sharon said. "We had representatives. We were being heard. The system was working, ever so slowly. It was working."

Dan, a retired carpenter, understood that a village sewer system and the few lives caught in the balance wouldn't command attention of officials.

"I was delighted and surprised because we're not a big issue," Dan said. "We're just a couple trying to sell their home."

Muth is a Montgomery County Democrat who also represents Amity, Douglass and Union townships in Berks County.

Series of delays

The pipe installation of the $6 million sewer project was completed in the spring, but even in April officials were told the timing of the electrical connection was a moving target.

Union and Robeson townships were mandated by the state Department of Environmental Protection to construct the 6-mile sewer line to Birdsboro, addressing failing septic systems as part of their Act 537 plan. The unsanitary situation, that officials say pollutes Hay Creek, has existed for more than a decade. In 2015, the community received a $5.33 million package from Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority, or PennVest, for the project.

The project was first delayed because First Energy, Met-Ed's parent, had diverted crews to deal with storm damage in southern states, said Harold W. Steve Jr., a Robeson Township supervisor who serves as chairman of the joint sewer authority, in an email statement.

Then, the utility discovered that First Energy needed another utility, Windstream, to replace a utility pole to hang the electric lines on.

Another scheduling challenge, according to Met-Ed spokesman Todd Meyers, was the planned outage that was needed to hook up the pump stations.

A business customer affected was adamant about not losing power, so Met-Ed redesigned the project so the business could keep power during the pump station hookup. Meyers declined to name the business.

The project was further complicated by having to install another pole because there was not enough room for Met-Ed equipment on the Windstream pole, Meyers said.

'Break a log jam'

David Cohen, chief of staff for Muth, said that after McGinley contacted him, he contacted Met-Ed, Windstream and township officials.

"We were just doing our jobs," Cohen said.

Meyers said he was aware that Met-Ed's external affairs staff had spoken with representatives of Muth's office. He did not know if the push from Muth made a difference.

"I believe that can help sometimes," Meyers said. "It can help break a log jam."

What's next

The McGinley's home remains on the market and they are hopeful they can find another buyer.

Meanwhile, other Geigertown residents expressed mixed feelings about the project.

One retiree, who declined to give her name, said she accepts the need for the sewers but is concerned about the thousands of dollars she will have to pay to connect to the sewers, in addition to monthly fee of about $150.

"As far as I know testing is scheduled to begin so that the system can be certified for use," Steve said. "When that is completed the GAJA (Geigertown Area Joint Authority) board will send out letters for connection to the system. That information will be decided on and approved at our next meeting."

The next regular meeting of the authority is Nov. 13 at 7 p.m. in the Union Township building.

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