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The dirt flies: Route 286 sewage extension under way

Almost 10 years after a pivotal decision on a local highway project, White Township officials celebrated the start of construction of an infrastructure project that will benefit the township for many, many years in the future.

Work symbolically began Tuesday on the Route 286 East Sanitary Sewage Extension, a project that will add 8,000 feet of 8-inch pipe and 3,500 feet of 4-inch pressurized force main pipe to the regional sewage treatment network. Township road crew worker Jamie Bearer turned earth with a backhoe on a small field along Campbell Lane, where a pumping station for the system will be built. Dignitaries at the ceremony dug in with shovels to signify plans have become reality, and that White Township remains committed to being ripe for development.

The system will replace on-lot and septic sewage facilities now in use on Campbell Lane; Ober, Hamill and Airport Roads; and at a small business park along Route 286.

Township Manager Chris Anderson said Pennsylvania Department of Transportation included the installation of a main casing pipe on the Airport Road bridge over U.S. Route 119 Bypass when the bridge replacement project was designed in 2013-14.

The pipe made possible the connection of the new Route 286 East sewage service area with the main sewer network serving the Indiana area. The system at first will serve 23 homes and 12 commercial properties in the vicinity of Pa. Route 286, U.S. Route 119 and Airport Road.

“By including it in the cost and design of that PennDOT project, it saved (White Township) thousands and thousands of dollars,” Anderson said.

“In White Township, as a whole, everybody takes pride in the township and the infrastructure. White Township has always taken the stance that we’re going to set favorable conditions by providing adequate, modern infrastructure to retain the citizens that we have and ... the businesses that we have, and also set the framework for any developers who would like to come in,” Anderson said. “The framework is in place; they could step in and with limited extension of utilities they could be up and building.”           

Chairman Gene Gemmell of White Township Municipal Authority said the project would be one of the best in the authority’s 62-year history.

“In White Township, we have 85 miles of gravity sewer and roughly three miles of force main, not counting the project we’re doing today. And we have 2,500 manholes. And that’s what these fellows’ job is, to maintain and repair it and keep the sewage moving,” Gemmell said. “And we have cooperation with Indiana Borough. Our sewage is treated at the borough’s multi-million-dollar treatment plant. We have excellent agreements in place with a system that works. It’s a big operation.”

Since its origin on March 31, 1960, Gemmell said, the authority has completed major sewage service projects serving the East Pike communities and the Cherry Run areas in western White Township.

“We have come a long way from 1960 and we’re continuing. This is going to be one of our better projects ever,” Gemmell said. “Today ... we don’t get flak from people like they did in 1960. Most people realize we have to have this infrastructure. Most of them want it and they approach us saying ‘we need sewer lines.’”

Township Engineer Dan Jageman charted the history of the project design, the extensive permitting process, the coordination of utilities in the project area, the alignment of manufacturers and suppliers, and the selection of the system construction company.

“We needed 40 private property easements to do this job. We’re going onto people’s property and a lot of the residents here have been great to work with,” Jageman said. “We’re trying our best to run our lines along property lines for minimal disturbance to people’s property.

“I’ve gotten to know a lot of the people here and I look forward continuing through the construction. That’s a benefit for me – I get to design it, I get to see it built, I get to operate it. I get to be here and see it. That’s a very unique situation I’m happy to be a part of.

“Now starts the fun part,” Jageman said. “We get a chance to see all the hard work come to life. I’m looking forward to working with Bison Construction... and the day that Ron (Backus, White Township pump station operator) fires up the pumps for the first time.”

State Sen. Joe Pittman, who was instrumental in the township’s acquisition of $250,000 of commonwealth grant funding for the project, praised the attitude of cooperation and collaboration displayed by White Township for community improvement efforts.

“This is a perfect example of what that collaboration can do,” Pittman said. “When I look at this region of White Township, the investment we’ve made in the airport ... what Westmoreland County Community College has done ... and the Conservation District’s location up on Hamill Road, I really think this region is bright and open for potential future development. But we can’t have that without basic infrastructure, and public sewage is as basic as it gets.”

The project design firm, Skelly and Loy Inc., was represented by engineer Justin Matincheck for the groundbreaking. Matincheck has served as the project manager through the design, permitting and bidding phases of the project. His efforts led to the authority receiving highly competitive bids and awarding a construction contract to Bison Construction Inc. in an amount well below the original estimated cost.

Bison, of Fairmount City, Clarion County, in June was awarded the project contract for its bid of $3.05 million and was authorized July 11 to proceed with construction.

Commissioners Michael Keith and Robin Gorman represented Indiana County and its support of the project. Several neighboring property owners, who will be served by the new sewage collection service, attended the groundbreaking celebration.

In his remarks, Anderson also credited Vince Lazor of S&T Bank and township solicitor Ryan Fritz for securing a $3 million loan for the extension, and commended the Municipal Authority board members, the Board of Supervisors and the complete township staff for their “all hands on deck” support of the project.

The 18-month work timetable calls for completion in January 2024. Bison Construction now is studying the service area and is expected to begin full time work on site in September.