HANOVER TOWNSHIP, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) – Tens of thousands of local property owners are experiencing a bit of sticker shock. They’re receiving their sewer bills this week reflecting a brand new fee. Eyewitness News Reporter Mark Hiller looked into the storm of frustration and why the water treatment plant behind the fee considers it fair.
Fresh out of her mailbox is a bill 88-year-old Gloria Englehardt holds in her hands. “Everything goes up.” Living on a fixed income, she must come up with nearly 58 more dollars a year for a new stormwater fee added to her Wyoming Valley Sewer Authority bill. “That’s quite a lot to me anyway because of the amount of money that I get.”
It costs even more for her neighbor Sue Henry. Besides a house, Ms. Henry owns a driveway that because it’s paved cannot absorb stormwater which means she’s double billed the fee. When asked if the fee caught her off guard she replied, “Did it catch me off guard? Of course it caught me off guard.”
The stormwater fee is the result of a U.S Environmental Protection Agency order requiring communities to reduce contaminants like sediment, nitrogen and phosphorus which wash into the Susquehanna River and flow into Chesapeake Bay. The fee will fund storm runoff control measures like restoring feeder stream and creek beds, cleaning catch basins and installing rain gardens.
In handling that federal mandate for some 32 municipalities, a Wyoming Valley Sanitary Authority spokesman claims the rate is fair and competitive but it still leaves the question: are consumers getting enough bang for their buck. Ms. Henry said, “How are we supposed to track the efficacy of this project? Who will track the tangible results of what this fee goes to?” Ms. Englehardt added, “They say they’re working on stuff. Now these guys went right for the money right away.”
Like it or not, it’s a fee property owners will have to absorb for the next five years. The Wyoming Valley Sanitary Authority project is estimated at $33 million. Bills to nearly 69,000 residential property owners have already been mailed. The authority will send out the bills for some 11,000 commercial property owners in the middle of this month.