NEW BETHLEHEM – An overabundance of non-flushable items in the waste water treatment system continues to plague the Redbank Valley Municipal Authority after a recent clog in a South Bethlehem line proved to be both costly and time consuming to repair.

“We could have been in a situation where we couldn’t pump sewage to the plant,” RVMA chairman Allen Dawson told fellow authority board members last week, citing a large clog that was discovered late last month in a sewer line along Goat Road, near the sharp turn in South Bethlehem. “It could have been really bad.”

According to Dawson, the clog in the eight-inch sewer line was discovered by a South Bethlehem couple during a building project at their home.

“They were looking for the tie-in, and they discovered that the main line was plugged,” he said, explaining that they then contacted RVMA to dig up the line. What they discovered was that the clog was caused by a large accumulation of non-flushable items — such as rags, sanitary wipes, diapers and more — that had become lodged in the line on its way to the waste water treatment plant. “The high water upstream couldn’t get through because the lines were plugged with rags and other paraphernalia.”

Ultimately, authority officials said, the clog took RVMA employees three days and thousands of dollars to repair, which included the use of a jet truck to suck the clog out of the line.

“We had to bring in speciality equipment to resolve the issue,” RVMA board member Lisa Kerle said, pointing out that the authority’s bill “was just over $12,000,” and also included wages and overtime for employees.

RVMA engineer Tom Thompson said following the meeting that he believes the clog had probably developed over the month leading to its discovery.

“I’m guessing it was only there for a short period of time because people would have experienced backups if it were there for a long time,” he said.

Thompson explained further that non-flushable items not only clog the sewer lines themselves, but also have the potential to damage or completely shut down the waste water treatment system’s pumps and pump stations.

“If they do get to the treatment system, [the items] can essentially get caught up and tend to break some of the components in the treatment system,” he said.

Although a major disaster was averted this time, authority members again urged RVMA customers to be mindful of what they flush down their toilets.

“Just because something says it’s ‘flushable’ doesn’t mean that it will disintegrate,” RVMA board member Lum Adams said, pointing especially to “flushable” wipes. “They just don’t decompose.”

In fact, board members noted that toilet paper is really the only item that should ever be flushed down a commode.

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Wrapping up the brief discussion at the meeting, Dawson credited the efforts of the RVMA employees to resolve the clog without disruption to customers.

“It was a good effort on everybody’s part,” he said.

In other business at the Nov. 18 meeting, RVMA officials also discussed options for new meters that are to be purchased utilizing the $830,800 — which includes a $56,000 low-interest loan and a $774,431 grant — in recently-awarded Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority (PENNVEST) funding.

“The meters are all COSTAR approved,” Thompson told authority members, explaining that RVMA can skip the bidding process when it comes to purchasing new meters. “You can just enter a contract and purchase the meters.”

Following a brief discussion of what brand of meter would be best, authority members looked at whether it would be best for the new meters to continue measuring usage in cubic feet, or switch measurements to gallons.

“I will tell you that most water systems prefer cubic feet because the units are easier,” Thompson told RVMA officials. He later explained that although the cost of the meters is the same, cubic feet measurements tend to be more accurate because they are billed on a per-100-cubic-feet basis, which works out to about 750 gallons, versus a gallon meter which bills on a per-1,000-gallons basis.

“From a billing standpoint, you’re sort of losing 250 gallons each time,” he continued, adding that if RVMA switches to gallons, water rates will also have to be reconfigured at what might appear as a higher rate to reflect the change. “At the end of the day, the water bill is going to be similar, it might just look slightly higher to offset the larger increment you will be billing.”

Despite the perception of switching to gallons, multiple authority officials said they believed gallons would be much easier for customers to understand.

“I understand that no one will ever come in and say that they want to know how many cubic feet a bill is instead of gallons,” Thompson said. “There’s a methodology for that, but it’s your call.”

Ultimately, no formal action was taken on the matter, but Thompson said he would reach out to a few meter providers for price comparisons and to determine what exactly RVMA needs.

Other Business

• In other PENNVEST matters, RVMA officials approved the projected legal and engineering fees associated with the administration of the grant/loan. Legal fees were authorized at $10,000, while engineering fees were approved at $44,000.

• After learning that their current rate with West Penn Power would be increasing by 34 percent, RVMA officials approved a new, lower electric contract for all facilities with Freepoint Energy at a rate of 0.0593 for four years.

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