Penn Township residents without drinking water since summer
PENN TWP — Families in the Mandell Trails Mobile Home Park will have to rely on bottled water this Christmas for everything from showers to cooking.
And according to residents Harvey and Heather Houtz, issues with the park’s water system have been ongoing since at least midsummer.
“It’s been going on for months,” Harvey said.
“July 14 is the date that we got the original letter,” Heather said.
The couple and their two children were notified in July that a state Department of Environmental Protection inspection revealed “elevated levels of iron and manganese” in the park’s water supply.
While the family had always avoided using the water for drinking, Heather said she and her family were having dinner when the letter arrived deeming it unsafe.
“My family said, ‘Did you use the water to make supper?’” she said. “I did, because I didn’t know. I didn’t know until we had gotten done eating.”
Due to “operational issues” at the park’s treatment plant, the July letter advised against drinking or even boiling the park’s water.
“Boiling, freezing, filtering or letting water stand does not reduce the iron and manganese levels,” the letter read. “Excessive boiling can make the iron and manganese more concentrated, because iron and manganese remains behind when the water evaporates.”
While exposure to iron and manganese is not immediately harmful, according to Pennsylvania State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences, prolonged exposure to excessive manganese risks “various neurological health effects.”
In the initial letter, park owners UMH Properties Inc. anticipated the problem would be solved by Sept. 14, with bottled water being delivered to residents weekly in the meantime.
By November, the owners had sent a follow-up letter anticipating a resolution by Feb. 28.
“All I’m asking for is good drinking water,” Harvey said.
In a statement Wednesday, Nov. 29, a spokesperson for UMH Properties Inc. told the Butler Eagle that a “process to switch from well water to town water at Mandell Trails is underway.”
“Bottled water deliveries are made weekly to each resident and more is supplied as requested,” the statement read.
According to a letter to residents Nov. 14, the owners consulted with contractors and the DEP to help resolve immediate issues with the water system and plan for “a future system that will be more reliable.”
“UMH has determined the best resolution to Mandell’s water quality and quantity issues is to connect to the public water utility, the Municipal Authority of Adams Township,” the letter read.
Matthew Cranmer, manager of the township authority, confirmed a project was ongoing to extend the municipal line to the park.
“This is going to be done in two phases,” he said. “Phase 1 will be for them to construct the line from Route 8 into their water treatment plant, and then once that line is constructed and tested and everything passes, we will be selling them bulk water.”
Design work recently completed for the first phase, according to Cranmer, with construction expected to complete in February.
“We submitted the permit application that we needed for a stream crossing permit,” he said. “The design is complete, the drawings are done, so I would estimate — depending on how fast we get the permit back — a couple of months before we can start construction.”
The second phase of the project will provide a long-term solution to the park’s problems, according to Cranmer, with work beginning as soon as next year to build out permanent infrastructure.
“That’s going to take some time because that’s a major project,” he said. “We have more extensive permitting that would need to be done, so I would say by the end of the next year — probably a total of a year with the design and construction.”
Cranmer said the second phase would construct new water mains throughout the entire plan, “just like a new development.”
“Then once those lines are completed, they’ll individually tap in each unit to the new water mains, and we’ll take ownership over the new mains,” he said. “Then we’ll be serving those individual units directly; they’ll be direct customers.”
According to Cranmer, the fix was possible thanks to a recent build-out of roughly 40,000 feet of waterline along “the Route 8 corridor, up to the (Pittsburgh-Butler Regional Airport) and just beyond Airport Road.”
“It was a community effort, so we worked with the county and with the airport authority,” he said. “The airport did not have any public water and neither did anybody along the corridor of Route 8 in Penn Township and Middlesex Township.”
The last phase completed earlier this year, Cranmer said, with the project beginning in 2021.
“When we did this project, we left a tap for Mandell Trails,” he said, “because we knew that they would be interested in tapping into it.”
Cranmer said assisting communities like Mandell Trails was “one of the big reasons” the line was extended in the first place.
“They kind of inherited a water treatment system and distribution system that needed a lot of work,” he said. “We’re helping them to improve the water supply to the community there.”
While the “Do Not Consume” order remains in effect, residents should continue to use bottled water for “drinking and cooking, brushing teeth, washing fruits and vegetables, preparing food, mixing baby formula, making ice and giving water to pets,” according to a statement by the state Department of Environmental Protection.