Michael Knecht fears that a planned sewer line project in Ambridge would negatively impact Old Economy Village buildings and other historic structures throughout the district.
As site administrator of Old Economy, Knecht said he has a duty to make sure the national landmark is preserved. He said the path of the sewer line – which would be installed underground from 11th to 15th streets by drilling horizontally – would be within 8 feet of Old Economy’s Feast Hall, right next to the summer kitchen and the cabinet shop, though he said no borings or testing were performed in that area.
“I’m asking you to delay accepting any bids and letting the contractors until those investigations can be done. I think there are alternatives,” he said.
In the end, the municipal authority board postponed approving contracts until the November meeting based on a recommendation from Emile Ketterer of NIRA Engineering – but not before several from the public expressed opinions.
Representatives from historic district boards as well as business and property owners joined Knecht in speaking out about the impact the project would have should work move forward as planned. Many concerns were raised about the fragile nature of the historic buildings.
Dennis Lapic said he has been restoring historic buildings in town for decades and is currently renovating one of the oldest in the borough. He asked the board to regroup and seek an alternative plan.
“In my opinion, this is the worst threat since I’ve been working on these houses for 20 years.”
Connie Kovalenko, co-chairwoman of the Ambridge Historic District Economic Development Corp., said the group informally learned of the project about three weeks ago. A member of the Ambridge Historical Architectural Review Board also complained members were never informed.
Kovalenko, owner Akulina's Antiques on Church Street, said her concerns were for the neighborhood as well as her investment to repair and restore her historic building.
“The buildings are irreplaceable and we’re very concerned,” said Roberts, who is also a member of the Ambridge Historic District Economic Development group.
Ambridge Councilman Gerald “Duke” McCoy pointed out that Old Economy has spent $1.6 million on restoration work at the Rapp House, former home of Harmony Society founder and leader George Rapp, and asked that the authority to do its due diligence.
“Their only concern is that this project is handled with care and properly done, because they’re afraid that there will be some collapsing,” McCoy said.
Municipal Authority officials said they are under a consent order from the state Department of Environmental Protection to upgrade the deteriorating system. The authority has borrowed another $13 million to do the improvements.
Karen Ivancik, business office secretary, said the authority has been given two extensions and has until the end of 2016 to complete the final work and end the consent order that started in 2001, or face hefty fines.
Jaysen Roth, director of the municipal authority, said rerouting would cost millions of dollars, a price that would also have to be passed onto residents. An alternative route would also require DEP approval.
“The pump station is rotting away. That’s the whole reason for this project,” Roth said.
In addition to the Church Street sewer line, the project will involve a constructing a new Fourth Street pump station to replace the old one; an interceptor line on Park Road from Eighth to Fourth streets; a holding tank behind the water authority building.
Ketterer said her main reason for requesting a delay on awarding bids was because officials are going back to the Pennsylvania Historical Museum Commission, which approved plans in February 2013.
With the month's delay, Roberts said they hope to get the municipal authority support from the museum commission with an extension to allow for revisions.
“Otherwise, they’re still under the gun and facing fines,” Roberts said.
Richard Helbig, municipal authority chairman, thanked everyone for coming out and expressing their concerns.
“We do realize your concerns. We don’t want anything to happen to Old Economy,” Helbig said.
The municipal authority meets at 6 p.m. on the third Monday of every month.
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