HISTORY OF FSWA

The Fredericksburg Sewer and Water Authority was begun in 1976 as a municipal authority under the Municipal Authorities Act of 1943. At that time, the Board of Directors numbered seven appointees. The Authority was begun because Fredericksburg was sorely in need of a sewer system. At that time, all of the buildings were served by on-lot septic systems, most of which had failed years before. It was not uncommon to see waste running down the alleys behind the homes, especially in rainy periods, and the result was a very unsanitary community. In hot weather, there was sometimes a distinct aroma of human waste at some places, too.

In addition, the Fredericksburg Water Company, then owned principally by the Walborn family, operated the water system that served Fredericksburg. This system was old, had many failing meters, was prone to frequent leaks, and was sorely in need of additional water sources and greater storage capacity. The Authority purchased the water system shortly after it was formed for about $65,000.

The Authority was initially tasked with the responsibility of building a sewage treatment plant, installing sewers throughout the community, and taking over the water system. Since the absence of sewers was the first imperative, the Board set out to accomplish that task first, at the same time trying to keep the water system afloat. An engineering firm, Buchart-Horn, was hired to design the sewage collection system and the sewage treatment plant. In early 1984, bonds were issued to begin construction of a 150,000 gallon per day sewage treatment plant, just off Route 22, west of Deep Run, and the installation of sewers. Construction of the sewage treatment plant was finished in late 1984, and the sewer system was placed into service. Three pumping stations had to be built - one at the base of the plant, another on Route 22, just east of the intersection with Pine Grove Street, and the third in Richard Hills, on Locust Street. The initial bond was issued in the amount of $1,220,000, and it was subsequently reissued again in 1989, this time for $1,440,000 million. As of mid-2010, about $775,000 of this debt still remains on the Authority books.

From its inception up to about 1988, the Board of Directors handled most administrative matters, with the help of the Bethel Township Secretary, who did the billing. This resulted in a great deal of work for the volunteer members of the board. Part-time staff were hired to maintain the water system and to read meters, but a great deal of work continued to be done by the members of the board. As a result, after the mid 1980s, the township supervisors had a problem in finding new members for the Board of Directors. With terms expiring and nobody accepting appointment to the board, the remaining board members and the Bethel Township Supervisors signed an agreement for the township to take over operational control of the activities of the Authority. At this time, as well, the number of members of the Board of Directors was lowered from seven to five. The board then acted to fund the operations and manage the bond issue to keep the Authority afloat, but had no operational control over staff.

During the period in which the township ran the operation, the standpipe on Lickdale Road was added to the water system. There are no entries in the minutes of any meeting that show the cost, funding methods, date of installation, or anything else about the standpipe other than a note that it was being painted, made in 1986. About 1990, it became necessary to find another water source. The Supervisors decided to drill a well in the narrow street between the airport and West Main Street. The well was drilled, provided a very good yield, and was added to the system, as Well #6. Unfortunately, neither the Supervisors nor the Board of Directors had obtained the rights to the land on which the well was drilled. A court suit took place that resulted a settlement with the Authority gaining an easement for the well, but requiring that the airport be provided free water for eternity.

In 1992-3, the water distribution system was entirely replaced, to eliminate the many leaks and to provide better flow throughout the area. In addition, a loop was constructed that provided water to the area east of Fredericksburg, to Legionairre Drive, and back Pine Grove Road, now know as Sherwin-Williams Drive, to North Pine Grove Street. This loop enabled that area to become developed for warehousing. A water control building was also constructed, which can be seen to the right as Lickdale Road rises to the west of town. The loan for that project was taken out in the amount of $2.1 million, of which $220,000 is still owed.

In 1995, the Board of Directors of the Authority had become disenchanted with not having control of the Authority’s operations even though they had to pay for all that was done, so the board reached an agreement with the Township Supervisors to abrogate the agreement, thus returning both fiscal and operational control to the board. Unfortunately, that move resulted in slightly higher costs for the Authority because a retirement plan had to be obtained for the employees and because the Authority was no longer permitted to purchase gasoline at the township pumps. Bethel Township also refused to sign a mutual-aid agreement at that time, although sharing of equipment, and occasionally of staff, between the township and the Authority has never been a problem.

By 1995, it became clear that additional water was still needed, since the chicken processing plants were requiring ever more water to continue to process more chickens. At that time, the Authority had the choice of finding additional water outside of Fredericksburg or connecting with the Lebanon City Authority to provide water. Since the Susquehanna River Basin Commission had ruled that no new wells could be drilled within one mile of the center of town, the Authority engineer at that time, Light Heigle, recommended that a well be drilled about a mile north on Sugar Road. Although the well was successful, in that it yielded water, unfortunately, that water had high levels of nitrate, and was contaminated with Radon, causing it to be abandoned. In 1996, the Board then decided that a connection with Lebanon would be the better choice, since that water source, unlike another attempt at a well, was certain.

The Board then negotiated an agreement with both Farmers Pride and Pennfield (now B C Natural Chicken) to make the interconnection with Lebanon. Because the new water would be principally for use by them, the processors agreed to each fund 45% of the cost of the line, with the Authority picking up the remaining 10%. In addition, an agreement was reached with the Lebanon Authority to allow Fredericksburg to draw up to 15 million gallons of water per month, at prevailing bulk rates. Because the chicken processors agreed to pay for 90% of the loan, each was guaranteed at least 500,000 gallons of water per day for their production. If additional water was available, each could draw up to 700,000 gallons per day, based on that agreement, which will remain in effect until 2017. It was at this time that water lines were run on School Road, Melanie Drive, West Main Street, and Richard Hills. The total cost of the interconnection was $1.7 million, of which the Authority still owes $490,000. Pennfield was subsequently sold and their portion of the debt was retired in 2004.

By 1999, it became clear that additional water storage was needed both to meet high-flow demand and for fire protection. The Board then authorized Steckbeck Engineering and Surveying, the Authority Engineer, to design a 1,000,000 gallon elevated water tank. Based on a hydrology study performed by Gannett-Fleming, it was decided that the new tank would be erected at a higher elevation, in order to provide additional pressure for the system. A loan was taken out in the amount of $1,230,000 and construction began in 2004. Fortunately, Senator Brightbill was able to arrange a grant of $300,000 from the Department of Community and Economic Development to assist with the construction. The tank was completed and added to the water system in 2005.

All of the pumping stations owned by the Authority were rebuilt since originally constructed. The Route 22 station was rebuilt in 1998, the Richard Hills station in 2005, and the station at the base of the sewage treatment plant had all the equipment replaced in 2004. In addition, a small pump station was dedicated to the Authority by Miller and Spangler Builders, in 1998. This pump station serves fewer than 10 homes in the area of Mowery Road and West Main Street. This pump station was extensively rebuilt in 2009 by Authority staff.

In the late 1990s, DEP became concerned about the sewage situation in the Monroe Valley. Because the Authority had the responsibility for operating the sewer system in the Fredericksburg area, it also became the responsible agency for doing something in the Camp Strause area of the Valley. Since DEP adamantly refused to permit two separate systems, it soon became clear that a single plant and system would have to be built to serve the entire Valley. The Authority was assigned that duty in the Bethel Township sewage plan, also known as the Act 537 plan, and began negotiations with the Swatara Township Supervisors to construct a single system to provide sewer service to both townships. By 2002, both townships had updated their sewage plans to reflect that the Monroe Valley area would be served by a single sewer system. An agreement was negotiated between Swatara Township and the Authority that named the Authority as Swatara Township’s agent for sewer service in the Valley. This agreement also increased the board to six members, one of whom would be named by the Swatara Township supervisors for appointment by the Bethel Township supervisors to represent the Swatara Township customers in the Valley. Finally, the agreement permitted Swatara Township to determine where sewer lines were to be installed in their portion of the Valley. At this point, the Authority began planning in earnest to construct a plant. Because the Swatara Township area had previously had a sewer system designed to serve the area south of the golf course, and that particular area had been covered by a development plan, those lots, plus all other lots in the general area of Monroe Valley Drive, plus the Camp Strause area had to be included in the new system. Although the Authority had served Fredericksburg for over 20 years, DEP would not permit the use of average flows into the Fredericksburg plant to be used as design criteria, insisting that the standard 250 gallons per day figure for each dwelling or vacant lot be the standard. The result was a plant designed for more flow than would actually be expected, nevertheless, the Authority proceeded because by that time, a consent order had been issued that mandated construction of a sewage treatment plant. Further, DEP had classified the Valley as the highest priority area in the state for funding, based on the environmental conditions, so the Authority expected very favorable consideration of any applications for grant money. Unfortunately, when the grants were announced, the authority received only $288,000 in grant money, although PennVest did grant a 1% interest loan for a 30-year period. So the treatment plant and sewer lines were constructed and the plant began operation in 2007. As of this writing, the debt service payments are causing unrealistically high rates and the Authority is attempting to negotiate a revision to the payment schedule with PennVest.

At the time this history was written, the Authority was in the process of bidding a new elevated water tank to replace the standpipe on Lickdale Road. In addition, the design process for a new sewage treatment plant, to be constructed south of Greble Road was nearly completed. An option to purchase the necessary land had been signed with the landowners and the Act 537 plan was in the process of being revised by the township supervisors. Both facilities, as well as the planned sewer system south of Route 22 will add new material for an update to this history.

As time goes by, there will be more things happening and more history of the Authority to update. From time to time, additional material will be added to this section, until such time as the Authority is sold, abolished or its lifetime is concluded. Right now, because of long-term debt, the Authority is expected to remain until at least 2050. When all of the debt is paid off, ownership of the system will pass to Bethel Township, and responsibility for continued operation will become the Township’s. When that occurs, a chapter in the development of this area will end, only to be continued under the leadership of the Bethel Township Supervisors then in office.