Response to ‘Open letter’ on central sewage

17 Dec 2020 | 12:00

    Editor’s note: The following comment was posted online in response to “Open letter to the Milford Borough Council and Milford stakeholders regarding central sewage in a small town”:

    SeanStrub: When Amy sent this letter to me and local listserves, I responded to her. An edited version of my response is pasted below.

    Thanks, Amy, for sharing your thoughts concerning central sewage. There are certainly plenty of issues concerning central sewage or the 537 Plan where people of goodwill can disagree. I have a lot of respect for you as a businessperson and community leader and I regret that we aren’t aligned on this particular topic.

    It is in that spirit that I offer these comments to correct, amplify or comment on a few things in your letter. Note that I am responding personally, not on behalf of the Borough or Borough Council.

    Thanks and best wishes to you for joyous and safe holidays.

    1) The Council has not “proposed” a central sewer project. It may seem like a minor or nuanced distinction, but words matter and misinformation or lack of clarity has confused some Borough residents.

    The Council, as advised by the 2006 Comprehensive Plan, at no cost to the Borough, engaged in a process to develop a 537 Plan with other Eastern Pike municipalities. The 537 Plan details what is technically feasible and provides cost estimates and various options, in the event the Borough at some point has the funding and the Council decides to proceed with implementation of the Plan.

    Supporting this process is not necessarily supporting central sewage. Indeed, the (now former) Councilmember who made the motion and voted for the Council to participate in this process was Meagen Kameen, who has made her opposition to central sewage clear.

    2) For the vast majority of the 200-year timeline you cite, Milford’s visitation has been seasonal. It is only relatively recently that we have become more of a year-round destination, putting much more sewage into the in-ground systems in the Borough. Former Pike County Commissioner Don Brink told me once that he had almost never heard of a septic system failure in Milford Borough until relatively recent years. The utilization and amount of waste generated and being pumped into the ground is much more than it once was.

    In the same vein, Milford hasn’t always had a water system. When it was installed, it undoubtedly resulted in much more waste going into in-ground septic systems. I’m guessing there were people opposed to a central water system at the time, but today we appreciate the foresight that created a water company that provides exceptionally high-quality water and service at a cost far less than if we had a private water company.

    3). While you may not provide public restrooms at your business, it is relevant that some other businesses, including my own, do so willingly as an accommodation to visitors to the Borough who patronize your store as well as others. On a busy summer weekend, it is not unusual for the Hotel Fauchere to have 50 or more people who do not spend money in our business to use our washrooms and add to the burden on our septic system. Many retail stores in Milford tell customers to go to the Fauchere to use its facilities, rather than make their own available.

    4) Maintaining our historic integrity--which I agree is of utmost importance--didn’t happen by accident. It happened because of community leadership with vision that could look over the horizon and understand the threats to our community, commercial district and quality of life. Dick Snyder was known for pointing out that small towns don’t stay static, they are either improving or degrading. I believe supporting a carefully planned and limited central sewage system for the commercial district involves similar foresight.

    5) There are a couple of businesses in the Borough that might realize a savings from central sewage, because it is less costly to send sewage to the treatment plant in a pipe than in a truck. But that doesn’t include my business. If 75% of the installation was covered by grants, the Hotel Fauchere would pay several thousand dollars more per year for disposal of sewage than we do today. While it would be nice not to have to deal with an in-ground system, that isn’t why I support central sewage.

    I believe the biggest beneficiary of central sewage will be those of us who live in Milford Borough. That’s because our quality of life and property values are inextricably linked to the success and vitality of Milford’s commercial district. As the commercial district degrades, with empty storefronts, less desirable retail, more smoke shops, etc., so too will the quality of life for those living in the Borough degrade.

    6) You know better than most how difficult it is to have a successful retail business in Milford. We are not a large market and there is little Milford-specific destination marketing.

    Your business and mine rely a lot on visitors, but we have lost so many of the rooms (and restaurants) in close proximity to Milford in recent years. These are the true leisure travelers, who wander our streets and spend money in our shops, not the highway business through travelers who are more likely to stay at the interstate hotels.

    Cliff Park (~18 rooms) Harrington House (5 rooms) Black Walnut (~12 rooms) Mt. Haven (~35 rooms) Dimmick (~6 rooms) Muir House (5 rooms) Tom Quick (15 rooms, although presumably those are coming back)

    These are reasons why we have seen such turnover in retail establishments. A great store opens with hopes and dreams, and a year or two later they close up because they can’t make it work. Central sewage would make it more attractive and economic to open Bed and Breakfasts and have a greater variety of dining options.

    Not having central sewage has kept existing businesses from being able to expand, made it more difficult to sell properties and precludes businesses from investing here. We lucked out with Bill Rosado buying the Tom Quick after so many years. The previous owner cited the septic problems as one of the main obstacles.

    7) Your predicted “$20,000 to $40,000” initial expense is not true and the sort of wild exaggeration and disinformation that has made it more difficult to have an informed discussion on the topic. The borough would not proceed with a central sewage system that required initial costs anywhere in the range of what you have suggested will be the case. It may not proceed unless virtually all of the initial fees are paid by grants.

    8) What you consider “shortsighted” I consider foresight that will help support an economy in Milford that will enable small businesses, including yours, to flourish.

    9) Borough residents don’t pay for the system, not for its installation or its ongoing operation. It would be paid for by the properties connected to it. The financial analysis is a critical part of the 537 Plan, which is reviewed by the municipalities, public, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Delaware Rive r Basin Commission and others.

    The central sewage system would be managed by the Milford Water Authority, which maintains and operates our excellent water company. We are a rare community with a municipally-owned utility that does not have a vast deferred maintenance obligation, because the Water Authority has been extremely well-managed and they plan properly for the expected replacement of pipes and equipment as they wear out. There’s no reason to think they won’t be as responsible in their management of the sewage system.

    10) All of the waste that is pumped out of in-ground systems in Milford Borough goes to a privately-owned sewage treatment plant that also discharges its treated effluent in the Delaware River. So there is no net change there. The treatment plant has been approved for many years by state and federal regulatory agencies for a capacity that is more than enough to accommodate Milford Borough’s sewage.

    The agency that exerts the most control over sewage treatment plants on the river and monitors water quality in the Delaware River daily is the Delaware River Basin Commission. They have done an outstanding job of improving water quality in the river since they were established in the early 1960s. They are diligent, including playing a major role in stopping fracking in the region.

    Moreover, where do you think septic pumped into the ground goes? Milford sits on a lot of sand, which is perfect for in-ground systems, but that doesn’t mean it is perfect for the river or water quality. There is surface runoff from marginal systems, that goes in the river. There are underground aquifers that are affected by leach fields and in ground systems. Belle Reve puts about 2,000,000 gallons per year into the ground on a bluff just above a few feet away from the Delaware River.

    In a central system, that 2,000,000 gallons will go to a federally-regulated treatment plant. “Treatment” is a key word here, versus just putting it into the ground.

    11) We don’t know how long Covid will compel us to have Zoom meetings rather than meeting in person. To delay important public business--particularly a project that has been in process for more than two years that has been addressed, in varying degrees, at dozens of Council and other meetings, is difficult.

    In any case, the public comment process is only for comments, it is not a debate or discussion forum, it is not a forum where questions will be answered. It is for comments and questions to be made or submitted, which then go to the engineers and Council to be addressed or answered. Not having an in-person meeting does not restrict the information presented.

    Thanks for submitting a comment and I hope others in the community will do so as well.