SHICKSHINNY, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — Concerns are being raised about a possible massive hike in sewage bills for people who live near a state prison that is targeted for closure in Luzerne County.
“These people in Harrisburg, they throw out these numbers but they don’t know what they are talking about,” Jim Bach, President of the Business Association, Shickshinny Area. “They should come here and find out.”
Jim Bach is downright angry. He says if SCI Retreat closes it could bankrupt the Shickshinny Sewer Authority. Bach is a former member of the authority’s board of directors.
“Shickshinny Borough actually saved the state millions of dollars because Retreat did not want to build its own sewer plant. They were having problems,” Bach said.
So in 2014, the Shickshinny Sewer Authority entered into a contract with the state to build a $4 million dollar sewer line from the prison in Newport Township to its filtration plant near Shickshinny. It also upgraded its facility.
Bach says they were counting on income from the prison to help pay off that loan. SCI Retreat accounts for more than 60% of the Sewer Authority’s revenue. Its closing is creating a lot of financial uncertainty.
“Rates are going to go up because of this. Plus the plant may not operate properly – it’s designed to operate on a certain flow. If we don’t have the flow it’s not going to work properly,” Bach said.
“When you lose a customer of that magnitude, they are more than 60% of the operation, it will have a dramatic effect,” Senator Lisa Baker, a Republican Representative in Luzerne County said.
State Senator Baker is fighting to keep the prison open to save the 400 jobs at the prison and make sure the residents don’t get hit hard in their wallets.
“What does that mean to the average ratepayer in Mocanaqua, Salem Township? What is it going to do to them and will it make it unaffordable for ratepayers moving forward,” Baker wondered.
Sewer Authority members tell Eyewitness News that rates could increase from around $60 a quarter to $500 a quarter. A jump from $240/year to $2,000/year if the prison is closed.
A spokesperson for Governor Wolf said the state is working with local leaders to lessen the impact of the closure on the community. They say the state will honor its contract with the sewer authority till the year 2024.
A public hearing is set for October 17th on the planned closure.