Monday marked a major milestone toward reimbursing customers impacted by groundwater contamination from several local military bases.

On Monday afternoon, State Rep. Todd Stephens (R-151st) and members of the Military Installation Remediation and Infrastructure Authority which he chairs, formally presented a check to the Horsham Water and Sewer Authority to reimburse customers who paid surcharges for contamination cleanup.

"After years of working to make ratepayers whole, we are finally able to reimburse water customers for the costs of cleaning PFAS from our drinking water," Stephens said.

"This was not their fault; the federal government created this problem. In the meantime, MIRIA will work to keep local tax dollars raised by the former military base here in our community to offset the cost of the damage done by those bases," he said.

Earlier this month, Stephens and the MIRIA announced a series of grants to local water authorities meant to cover the costs of removing PFAS from local drinking water. 

PFAS is a category of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances that include Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS) and Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), found in the groundwater of communities near former military bases in Montgomery and Bucks counties. 

That contamination is believed to have come from firefighting foams used at the former naval air station on Horsham Road, and in the summer of 2019 Governor Tom Wolf pledged $3.8 million in state grant money to cover the costs of filtration systems. Act 101 of 2019, crafted by Stephens, created the MIRIA to help water providers address PFAS contamination, by redirecting to the locally-based authority state tax revenue generated on or around the former Willow Grove Naval Air Station. 

Grants already approved by the MIRIA board include $1,432,917 to the Horsham Water & Sewer Authority, which hosted the check presentation on Monday at its well house within Horsham's Meetinghouse Park. Grant awards also approved by MIRIA so far include $742,691 to the North Wales Water Authority and $500,000 to the Warminster Municipal Authority, according to MediaNews Group archives.

In 2006, the federal government closed several military bases around the country, including the Willow Grove Naval Air Station in Montgomery County. In transferring the land, the federal government discovered significant environmental issues, including contamination of the drinking water in some Montgomery and Bucks County communities caused by firefighting foam at the military installation.

Faced with insufficient federal action, local governments had no choice but to impose surcharges on ratepayers to fund cleanup efforts. After a years-long public discussion process, Horsham's township council voted in 2016 to refit all wells above the federal lifetime health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion of PFAS with new filtration systems to remove the contaminants down to non-detectable levels, and more recent steps include the establishment of a PFAS action team in 2019 tasked with identifying the extent of contamination and need for any further action, and new statewide sampling meant to identify PFAS in impacted drinking water. 

Horsham officials have said the surcharges for contamination cleanup were initially set at $25 per quarter, then lowered to $18 per quarter in 2019, and have been highlighted on residents' water bills so the impact of the contamination is more visible; in 2019 township officials said the charge would be removed from customer bills once funding is received.

The money presented to the township on Monday will be refunded to customers who have paid the surcharges, and those who paid surcharges from when they were first imposed in 2016 through 2019 will receive roughly $190 in compensation, Stephens said Tuesday.

For more information on Horsham Township's ongoing contamination cleanup efforts, visit www.horshamwater-sewer.com/. 

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