By Sukhwindar Singh, Director of Education & Training, Pennsylvania
Benezette Township is located in Elk County, Pennsylvania in the northwestern region of the state. The Township contains the unincorporated communities of Medix Run, Benezette, Summerson, Grant, and Dents Run, all in the valley of the Bennett Branch Sinnemahoning Creek. Eastern elk once roamed statewide, but colonization and overhunting forced out the entire native population by the late 1800’s. The establishment of the Game Commission a decade later allowed for the reintroduction of Elk in Pennsylvania from the west so that today, Benezette is known as the “Elk Capital of Pennsylvania”. The local Quehanna Wild Area is a wildlife area comprised of parts of Cameron, Clearfield and Elk counties that was founded in the 1950s as a nuclear research center and because of this, the area has a legacy of radioactive and toxic waste contamination while simultaneously being the largest state forest wild area in Pennsylvania.
In 2012, Benezette Township received a $1,301,000 Water and Environment Program (WEP) loan and a $1,114,000 WEP Grant from USDA Rural Development to construct a wastewater collection and treatment system to service 160 or more of the township’s residents in addition to the large number of tourists who visit the area each year. A press release provided by USDA at the time justified the project’s need “…the continued discharge of raw and semitreated sewage into streams represents a constant threat to water resources for residents, visitors and wildlife.”
In late 2014, RCAP staff received a referral for the project from USDA and became aware that the system needed help to get items together for their audit. In addition, the system personnel needed training on Annual Budget Preparation and Financial Reporting for WEP Borrowers. RCAP staff has continued to assist with this task as well as with the preparation of an Emergency Response Plan for the system. The outcome of this RCAP work is that the system will be more efficient and able to manage its infrastructure more effectively.
Finally, it is clear that the system has billing and treatment challenges, which is partially due to the sometimes-unpredictable influx of visitors and campers on a seasonal basis.
As a result of the ongoing technical assistance and training, RCAP has improved the capacity of local officials to better manage their newer wastewater facility, and improve budgeting activities and reporting, especially those required by USDA as part of their loan terms. The long-term benefit will be improved system sustainability and emergency response. This help provided by RCAP will better enable Benezette to manage their finances responsibly and to meet the covenants of their USDA/RUS loan.