Sanitary authority, volunteers clean up area waterways

November 2, 2019 Times-Leader (Wilkes-Barre)
PEC in the News

WILKES-BARRE TWP. — A crew of volunteers unearthed decades-old debris from a waterway Saturday to clean up the environment and reduce some nonprofits’ stormwater fees.

The Wyoming Valley Sanitary Authority (WVSA), assisted by several partnering groups, held the first of what is expected to be biannual cleanups of waterways.

About 20 volunteers, some representing nonprofits such as the Luzerne County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, New Roots recovery support center in Wilkes-Barre, the Earth Conservancy in Ashley and the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Plains Township, cleaned a stretch of Spring Run, a tributary of Solomon Creek.

WVSA sponsored the cleanup as part of its stormwater management plan, as required by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Authority spokeswoman Donna Gillis said that for every hour the volunteers work, they earn 50 cents in stormwater fee credits, up to 15% of the bill, for the nonprofit of their choice.

As of January, WVSA, the permit administrator for Wyoming Valley communities, began charging stormwater fees of $4.80 per month for the average property of up to 7,000 square feet of impervious area, such as rooftops, parking lots and driveways or any surface that inhibits infiltration of rainfall into the soil, said Matt Mitchell, WVSA stormwater technician.

The fees increase by $1.70 per 1,000 square feet over 7,000 square feet.

The revenue from the fee goes to managing pollutants such as sediment, phosphorus and nitrogen, which municipalities must reduce in the Susquehanna River by 10% by 2023, under federal law.

“I’m going to say some of this stuff has been here close to 50 years,” said Bob Hughes, executive director of the Eastern Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation (EPCAMR), a partner in WVSA’s stormwater management.

Hughes, looking down the embankment into a kind of basin formed by sediment buildup, said the volunteers cleaning up the creek just off Empire Street found old whitewall tires and the type of Kmart shopping carts the store hasn’t used in years.

He noted the sediment built up so much it blocked much of the water flow and created the basin, where high water swirls and deposits trash that flowed down the stream.

“There were a lot of TVs, appliances, flat-screen TVs, old TVs,” Gillis said. “Tires, tons of plastic bottles, shopping carts.”

She said EPCAMR picked 32 possible sites for a cleanup, but strongly suggested Spring Run, on property owned by the Wilkes-Barre Area School District, which gave the authority permission to do the cleanup.

Gillis said the authority provided the volunteers with gloves and goggles and will send dump trucks on Monday to pick up the bagged piles of debris. What can’t go to recycling will be taken to the landfill.

“Some of the stuff is from the 1970s,” Mitchell said. “You could tell by the style of the luggage.”

“When we got here this morning, there was nothing but plastic,” said volunteer Gregory Griffin, 65, of New Roots. He said he and other volunteers cleaned up along the creek for the length of about three football fields upstream.

Griffin, of Swoyersville, and Wilkes-Barre resident Larry Desjadon, 52, also with New Roots, said they volunteered for the cleanup to help. He said New Roots also cleans up streets in Wilkes-Barre.

“We’re just people helping people,” Desjadon said. “We expect nothing for it. We’re just trying to give back.”

Hughes said the cleanups would continue.

“We’ll work on the landowners to keep getting access, if we’re going to clean up,” he said.

He said the section of Spring Run where the sediment built up, beneath where the rails from an old coal mine rail line lead to an embankment where they are partially embedded, will have to be realigned. “This is a great first start to being the restoration effort,” Hughes said of the cleanup.

Palmira Miller, of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, another partner group, also stopped by to check up on the cleanup.

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