Duncannon’s ongoing water problems are wreaking havoc on developers at Petersburg Commons, the small townhouse neighborhood north of the borough.
“We tried to complete the project, but we had water issues,” said Wayne Lesher, homebuilder and owner of WSL Inc. of New Bloomfield. He was at Penn Twp. Meeting of the municipal authority on October 6.
WSL is the building partner of Petersburg Commons, located at Penn Twp. at the intersection of Market Street and Route 849 just north of the Duncannon Line. Petersburg partners, including Newport lawyer Allen Hench, want to resume construction of the development soon.
However, they ran into a well-known problem: Duncannon’s mysterious water loss reduced the pressure in the system and it will not meet the developers’ needs.
Specifically, Hench, Lesher and the company want to build a six-unit apartment building and that requires a fire extinguisher sprinkler system, they said. The water pressure is insufficient for the application.
The partners had the water system pressure checked at Petersburg Commons by Trinity Fire Protection of York in July, according to a letter Hench and Lesher sent to Penn Twp. Municipal authority asking him to solve the water problems.
“As noted, your system seems unable to deliver – not only the pressure needed – but also the amount of flow needed,” Hench wrote in this letter.
In an email attached to the letter, Trinity owner Michael Drew Jr. noted that the static water pressure of the system is 67 pounds per square inch (psi) and that it drops to a residual pressure of 11. psi. Both are very weak pressures that would not meet development needs. The developers also wondered if the pressures were sufficient for the existing fire hydrants.
However, at the end of the letter, they asked the city authority to build a pumping station to address the pressure issues, falsely equating it with work being done for Sunshine Hill and Stone Mill Estates. In this case, Stone Mill developer Yingst Homes and Fishing Creek Valley Associates are building a filtration plant that will serve two neighborhoods. The authority does not install a pumping station for pressure problems.
At the October 6 meeting, Lesher also asked the authority to do something about this, but its members noted that the authority is purchasing water wholesale from Duncannon Borough for Petersburg Commons.
“This system was like that before it was built,” said authority member Henry Holman III.
Lesher also raised concerns with the borough, asking them to step up the pressure so developers can build new homes. But the borough does not have it. He literally can’t do these things because he still doesn’t have a solution to his water problems.
“If you lose water, the pressure is going to be lower,” said Jeffrey Kirkhoff, president of the borough council. “We told Mr. Lesher that we didn’t think we needed to add anything to the system.”
Kirkhoff is also a member of the Infrastructure Committee and the Joint Authority Operating Committee (JAOC), a collaboration between Duncannon and Penn Twp. to handle water and sewer issues for the limited places where their systems connect to each other.
For years, Duncannon has lost between 40 and 50 percent of the water produced by its wells. The borough has done everything anyone suggested to find and fix the suspected leaks, including expert advice from the water system and the State Department of Environmental Protection. They fixed large and small leaks, but it didn’t make a dent. They scratch their heads, even after replacing aging pipes, valves and infrastructure that could be a problem down the road.
“We spent $ 500,000 last year on water loss issues,” Kirkhoff said.
The Borough has even more repairs to the water pipes under the intersection of Route 274 and Main Street South at the Route 11/15 exit ramp scheduled for this year. But until these issues are resolved, the borough cannot add large-scale development and water uses to its system.
The Penn Twp. the authority has suggested other options to the builders. They could build a pumping station and a storage tank at Petersburg Commons. This would allow them to proceed with townhouses.
They could also modify and resubmit plans for the next buildings in the development. If they opted for duplexes instead of multi-unit townhouses, it could eliminate sprinkler requirements.
Lesher didn’t like any of these options, saying each would squeeze developers’ profit margins.
But other solutions rely on fixing leaks that have not yet been found.