Questions of whether North Whitehall Township really needs a new sewage treatment plant, and how well the Lehigh County Authority would manage a 200,000-gallon-per-day plant, came into play Monday as the township supervisors continued to hear testimony on the proposed project.
The LCA is seeking approval for a conditional-use variance to construct the plant on Jordan Road near the KidsPeace campus.
If granted, the enlarged capacity plant would replace the current 62,000-gallon-per-day plant now serving KidsPeace. In addition to serving KidsPeace, the new plant would handle treatment for a proposed Walmart, Lehigh Carbon Community College, Schnecksville Fire Company and residential connections from future customers as township development increases. Ultimately, it could handle up to 200,000 gallons of sewage per day.
The approximately 40 residents attending sat quietly listening to testimony, most of which came from Jeanene Bauer, an opponent of the expansion who lives on Jordan Road. She presented a total of 26 exhibits, many from the Department of Environmental Protection, citing numerous violations by LCA in running much smaller plants in the area, such as those on Sand Spring Road and Wynnewood Terrace in North Whitehall, and the Heidelberg Heights plant in neighboring Heidelberg Township, questioning the LCA’s ability to manage a plant the size of the one proposed in the township.
Bauer also talked about mechanical failures and malfunctions that could impact the Jordan Creek.
“Being relatively fairly new to the area, I didn’t know the roads,” she said. “So I drove the township and discovered just how big it is, and nowhere did I find an area suitable for a sewage treatment plant. The majority of the township’s 15,000 residents have on-site sewage, and in the permits issued in the past 5 ½ years, none have been for total replacement of a system; they have been for minor repairs. My question is, why build this plant in an area that doesn’t need it?”
Rebutting her testimony was Frank Leist, capital works manager for the LCA.
He spoke about how poorly run the Sand Spring, Wynnewood Terrace and Heidelberg plants were before LCA acquired them, and how the authority took steps to repair and correct problems and maintain each site.
But Bauer countered with reports from DEP citing violations at each since being taken over by the LCA.
At times, Leist appeared to lose his composure. When asked if he questioned the DEP findings, he responded, “I can’t speak for the DEP. All I can say is, we [LCA] strive for perfection, but it’s not always possible.”
Also giving testimony was Emmaus resident Janet Keim, vice president of the Little Lehigh Watershed Coalition and former Salisbury Township commissioner, who cited federal and state laws protecting the environment. She talked about the effects of siltation (pollution of the water from sediment) from upstream development on the Little Lehigh, saying that e-coli from animal and human waste have been detected in the water. She warned about the potential for a similar problem if the sewage treatment plant is not managed and maintained properly.
“I wouldn’t want to see happen to the Jordan what happened to the Little Lehigh,” said Keim. “The LCA should not be given any approvals until the problems with the Little Lehigh are corrected and it is restored to its former state.”
Following Keim’s testimony, township solicitor Lisa Young asked if anyone else had testimony to offer. No one else responded, and the record was closed to comment, at which time residents objected, saying they were there not to “give testimony” but to make comments. Young reiterated the record was closed.
“I thought that was the purpose of this whole thing,” said resident Charles Hoover. Again, Young said she had asked if there was any further testimony and no one responded. So the record was closed. “I’m not here to give testimony,” replied Hoover. “I just want to make a comment. Some of us didn’t know that [commenting was giving testimony]. Some of us aren’t lawyers,” he added.
That brought a series of objections from the floor until the supervisors allowed comments off the record.
The supervisors will make their decision within 45 days. Another meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 18.