JENKINTOWN -- Borough Council heard a presentation on behalf of Pennsylvania’s subsidiary of Aqua America, a water and wastewater service provider, regarding the firm’s 2019 acquisition of Cheltenham Township’s wastewater system.

Cheltenham Township sold its wastewater assets to Aqua in December to address necessary collection system and lateral repairs. Aqua associates presented Council with the details of an Act 537 Special Study which addresses the Department of Environmental Protection’s Sewage Facilities Act. According to officials, the borough is implicated in Cheltenham’s divestment. A hundred percent of the Jenkintown Borough’s sanitary sewage passes through Cheltenham Township before treatment at the City of Philadelphia Water Department Treatment Facility.

According to borough manager George Locke, the sewage conveyance line carries the sewage of three municipalities: Cheltenham, Jenkintown, and Abington. These municipalities recently completed a rehabilitation project on the conveyance facility known as Interceptor A. The borough’s portion of that construction was 11 percent, which amounted to $1.2 million.

“The Pennsylvania DEP is still evaluating the metered results of that project,” Locke said. “But the intent and the positive results are indicating that we should be receiving additional EDU sewage capacity connections that will assist the borough in attracting and growing our commercial tax base.”

“The Act 537 Special Study pulls together all of the decision-making as to why Cheltenham is being purchased by Aqua,” Susanne Lockhart, a senior project manager at Brown & Caldwell, an environmental firm, said. “It’s going to inform future generations as to the progression of this utility. We want to make sure the voters are informed about the document.”

Officials said the Special Study is required by Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection, and allows for a thorough evaluation from a wastewater planning perspective.

“The document memorializes the sale,” Fred Gerloff, an Aqua representative, said. “Aqua bought the system, which is no more than a transfer of ownership. Day-to-day operations remain unchanged. We’re now responsible for the sewer system, as well as the capital improvements associated with it.”

Officials said Aqua’s acquisition of Cheltenham Township’s wastewater system is incomplete until Jenkintown Borough and Abington Township pass resolutions approving the sale.

The resolution will be voted on by council, which has until the end of February to make a decision, officials said.

“While there are always potential downsides to this type of acquisition, the borough would only be responsible for portions of the system that our sewage passes through,” Locke said. “There are huge upsides in that Aqua and the Pennsylvania DEP have already begun meeting to discuss continuing and re-engaging in some cases the measures detailed in the 2017 Corrective Action Plan that was agreed to by Cheltenham Township and the DEP. These repairs to the sanitary sewer mains and laterals are very much needed and will assist in eliminating sewer overflows during wet weather, and have a positive effect on the environment by keeping sewage out of the ground water, lowering the volume of sewer water in the system, and allowing for additional EDU sewage capacity connections of new businesses and homes from the borough and township.”

The planning commission reviewed and approved the sale in November, officials said.

“Aqua is on the hook from a regulatory perspective,” Lockhart said. “We need three documents: A comment letter from council, a letter from the planning commission, and an approved resolution. Those documents will go into a finalized draft document which gets sent to DEP.”

“We’re on your timeline, but we do have a sense of urgency,” Gerloff said. “After DEP’s approval, the acquisition is complete.”

“The plan as far as Jenkintown Borough is concerned is accurate and our aim is to make sure it includes the planning for expansion or addition of EDU sewage capacity for Jenkintown Borough homes and businesses should there be (re)development in the future,” Locke said.

In other news, council voted unanimously to award a four-year contract on behalf of Volunteer Firefighter Recruitment Services to The Communications Solutions Group, Inc., a Jenkintown-based full-service public relations and marketing firm.

The $95,940 contract is fully funded through the Federal FEMA Safer (Staffing for Fire & Emergency Response) Grant which was awarded to the borough in 2019, officials said.

“This highly successful program will provide the Jenkintown Fire Department with all the first-class marketing tools to recruit and retain first responders; website, branding, social media management, brochures, mailings, videos ads and more,” Locke said. 

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