Tuesday October 27, 2015 12:01 AM
By Valdis I. Lacis – Reading Eagle correspondent

The Western Berks Water Authority board has learned that a project in the works since 2011 could be more expensive because of new requirements set by the Army Corps of Engineers last month.

The plans call for installing a pipeline from the dam at Blue Marsh to the water authority’s treatment plant in Spring Township. Currently, the water is drawn from the Tulpehocken Creek.

The connection was expected to cost $2.3 million. According to officials, the new regulations would increase that by at least $1.3 million.

“The project has taken a major hit,” said Leonard E. Bilger II, executive director, adding that he plans to meet with Army Corps leadership soon “to get the excessive costs changed.”

“They also want to charge us $300,000 for engineering, inspection and safety oversight of the project, which now looks to bring the total to $4 million,” he added.

Bilger noted that originally, Western Berks estimated it would see a 10-year payback in electrical and other savings, but that was based on the $2.3 million price tag.

“But, in the 11th hour, they’re creating stipulations to change building and construction requirements, creating at least $1.3 million in additional cost,” he said. “Worse yet, the changes would bring no significant benefit to the project, just delay it.”

After a long discussion, the board approved “escalating communications with the higher levels of the Army Corps.”

In other business, the board voiced disappointment over Birdsboro Borough Council’s recent hire of an authority employee, key plant operator John Ruth.

“Earlier this year, we helped bring the Birdsboro Water Authority’s water treatment plant into DEP (state Department of Environmental Protection) compliance, which it had never been in since the plant opened a year and a half ago,” said William P. Murray, board director. “It’s extremely disappointing and disrespectful that, after all our hard work and what we helped them achieve, borough council has poached one of our plant operators.”

The board also approved a proposed 2016 budget of $3.17 million, which reflects a 2.2 percent increase in expenditures.

“We have a conservative budget from the expense side, and we expect a 2.5 percent increase in revenues and income,” director David L. Reeser said.

Bilger said that water rates being charged the authority’s three principal customers — the boroughs of Wyomissing, West Reading and Shillington — are staying the same next year.

The stable rates also affect parts of Mohnton and the townships of Cumru, Bern and Lower Heidelberg, he added.