How One Town Overcame Barriers to Address Aging Infrastructure and Enhance Economic Development

 Middletown Honored for Water and Sewer Improvements

This article was published by Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association in the August 2017 issue of their magazine, The Authority.

Construction equipment has become a familiar sight to the residents of Middletown Borough in recent years. New businesses are popping up alongside historic buildings in the borough’s downtown business district – thanks, in large part, to a major revitalization effort spearheaded by local government officials.

And it all began by replacing the area’s water and sewer facilities.

The success of Middletown’s revitalization effort illustrates the key role infrastructure plays in building and sustaining great communities. Borough officials and local business leaders wanted to enhance economic development by attracting new businesses to downtown Middletown, but water and sewer problems threatened to kill the success of their efforts before they’d begun. Many communities could’ve seen their dreams derailed by an obstacle like this, but the borough persevered because of strategic planning and the collective effort of a community united behind a common goal. The borough’s story illustrates how communities can overcome barriers and successfully address aging infrastructure in order to enhance economic development.


Aging Infrastructure Presents a Barrier to Development

The Borough of Middletown has the distinction of being the oldest community in Dauphin County. The town was first laid out along the Susquehanna River and Swatara Creek before the Revolutionary War, and brick sewers in the historic downtown area were first installed not long after the Civil War.

Middletown Pre-1900 Sanitary Sewer

Some of Middletown’s water and sewer lines dated back before 1900. 

Unfortunately, the sanitary sewer and water facilities located in the downtown business district were not supporting current demand (and they certainly weren’t adequate to meet the demands of new development). The condition of the assets were a risk to the downtown revitalization efforts. In addition, cross-connections between the sanitary sewer system and the storm sewer system led to surcharging and sanitary sewer back-ups.

These challenges made it hard to keep existing businesses downtown and attract new ones. In addition, the borough was planning a streetscape project that would place numerous aesthetic improvements directly above the aging water and sewer facilities. The community did not want to see their investment in these improvements threatened by excavation to repair the sewer and water facilities soon after construction was complete.


Water and Sewer Improvements Lay the Foundation for Future Development

Borough officials asked Herbert, Rowland & Grubic, Inc. to design upgrades to the water and sewer facilities in the heart of its downtown business district (along South Union Street from Spring Street to Ann Street). This project was to be the first phase of its downtown revitalization plan. It included:

  • Replacing deteriorated brick sanitary sewer mains with 1,467 feet of new PVC sanitary sewer main
  • Eliminating hydraulic “bottle-necking” that restricted sewer flows to the Mill Street Interceptor
  • Replacing 7 deteriorated manholes with new precast concrete manholes
  • Replacing 44 sewer laterals
  • Designing and replacing 2,042 feet of water main
  • Replacing 4 hydrants
  • Installing 14 valves to isolate future maintenance work as the community continues to upgrade its water infrastructure and to allow for future fire system services to new businesses

HRG began design work in 2013, and construction was complete in 2014. They accelerated the project schedule to reduce stress to the existing local businesses.   With the risk of failing water and sewer facilities mitigated, Middletown could begin Phase II of its revitalization effort: improving the streetscape (with new decorative paving, curbing, sidewalks, and street trees) and providing traffic calming devices to promote pedestrian access to the businesses.

Middletown New Sanitary Sewer Manhole

New sanitary sewer manhole

New sanitary sewer in downtown Middletown Borough

New sanitary sewer

New water main and valves in downtown Middletown

New water main and valves


The Community Comes Together to Make This Project a Success

Efforts to revitalize the downtown business district had generated excitement in the community. Local leaders, business owners, and residents understood that these infrastructure upgrades were vital to attracting new business to the area, and they embraced the investment this project would require.

The former Middletown Borough Authority, the borough, and the Middletown Borough Industrial and Commercial Development Authority led the revitalization effort and engaged the public throughout the process. They held numerous meetings with the public and with local stakeholders to communicate the vision and direction of the project. The project team worked extensively with the owners of local businesses along South Union Street, soliciting their ideas and accommodating special events to minimize disruption to business activity.

Thanks, in part, to these open lines of communication, the project team was able to maintain water and sewer service to the existing businesses in the area throughout the project (despite having a confined working area due to the presence of numerous other utilities).

The engineers also coordinated extensively with other project partners to ensure a smooth transition from Phase I (water and sewer improvements) to Phase II (streetscape enhancements). For example, they coordinated extensively with the streetscape design team to ensure that the water and sewer improvements would not conflict with proposed streetscape facilities, and they worked closely with the landscape architect to ensure that above-ground features like hydrants and manhole covers were installed at locations that would not impact the streetscape visual design concepts.  This saved the borough money and ensured that above-ground features would not have to be relocated during Phase II to achieve the aesthetic goals of the streetscape enhancements.

Detailed records about the location and depth of sewer laterals by HRG’s resident project representatives during construction of Phase I provided further cost savings. This information was used for deciding the depth of stormwater facilities in Phase II, reducing design fees in that phase.  It also prevented costly change orders that often come from unknown utility locations.


Middletown Streetscape

The Improvements Begin to Generate New Development Interest

It didn’t take long for all of this activity to generate interest from developers and business owners in opening new ventures in the area. While the project was in its construction phase, a developer proposed a 100-room hotel with retail space on the first floor just a block away from downtown. The developer also expressed an interest in working with the team behind the streetscape design to develop other projects in the area.  He specifically mentioned the downtown revitalization efforts as one of the factors in his decision to invest in the area.

Patrick Devlin of the Tattered Flag Brewery and Still Works also mentioned the flurry of activity downtown as a factor in choosing to locate his business in the old Elks Building. The brewery opened in December 2016 and was recently named the New Business of the Year by the Harrisburg Regional Visitors Bureau.

Business investment like this is expected to continue in Middletown and the surrounding communities. The new sewer infrastructure mitigated a known risk, increased efficiency, and gave the borough additional capacity for the anticipated development.

The water and sewer improvements were completed two weeks ahead of schedule and almost $400,000 under budget. This new infrastructure proved to have a much lower maintenance and operations cost than the aging infrastructure it replaced, and it has drastically reduced infiltration and inflow into the system. During an early phase of design, engineers found and eliminated a cross-connection between the aging sanitary sewer and the borough’s storm sewer system.  By eliminating this cross-connection, they were able to prevent approximately 500,000 gallons of stormwater from entering the sewer system during a typical rain event.  In fact, since the project was completed, the system has not experienced a single sanitary sewer overflow, and no sewer back-ups have been reported along North Union Street. (You can read more about the correction of this cross-connection here.)

Investing in a project of this magnitude is hard for many communities, but Middletown’s story shows it is possible and the benefits are wide-ranging. When well planned and executed, updated infrastructure lowers maintenance and operations costs, enhances the quality of service to a system’s customers, and helps to attract growth and investment in the community.   When citizens and business owners join forces with the local government and think creatively, the seemingly impossible task of upgrading our aging infrastructure while promoting economic development becomes possible!

Josh FoxJosh Fox, P.E., is the regional manager of water and wastewater services in HRG’s Harrisburg office. He is responsible for the completion of studies, designs, and construction contract administration for a wide variety of water and wastewater treatment facilities.  He served as project manager for these water and sewer improvements in Middletown, which were honored by Dauphin County in 2017 with a Premier Project Award.

HRG Professionals Headlining 9 Presentations at PENNTEC 2017

HRG professionals will be headlining nine presentations at the PENNTEC conference next week. The Pennsylvania Water Environment Association will be hosting this conference June 4 – 7 at the Kalahari Resort & Convention Center in Pocono Manor. 


Matthew Cichy

What to Know Before You Collect Asset Data for GIS (Monday June 5)
Matt Cichy will discuss who can complete the data collection and how it should be done. He will also present the lessons he has learned from many years of experience collecting sanitary and storm sewer system asset data for use in GIS.


Howard Hodder
Web-based Technologies for the Inventory, Operations and Maintenance of your Assets
(Monday June 5)
Howard Hodder will provide an overview of the latest web-based GIS technology (ArcGIS). He’ll also explain how its simplicity enables municipalities large and small to build and maintain robust databases in-house, making asset management a viable solution. His experience assisting Lower Swatara Township Municipal Authority with a successful implementation of the technology will serve as the basis of discussion.


Ben Burns
Big Hollow Diversion Pump Station Expands Capacity and Eliminates Stormwater Issues
(Monday June 5)
Ben Burns will describe the Big Hollow Diversion Pump Station he designed for the University Area Joint Authority. This 18.8 MGD facility provides capacity for the build-out projections presented in the authority’s most recent Act 537 plan.  It also removes a section of interceptor pipe that was installed at ground level and had been causing stormwater to backwater.  The pump station incorporates a diversion pumping system that uses a second forcemain to pump high flows around hydraulically limited segments of a gravity interceptor.


Justin Mendinsky
Belt Dryer Performance Evaluation: Is the Bang Worth the Buck?
(Monday June 5)
Justin Mendinsky will discuss his experience working with the Milton Regional Sewer Authority on the installation of a new belt dryer designed to produce Class A biosolids from the processing of dewatered, waste-activated and waste anaerobic sludge. The belt dryer will operate using direct exhaust from two 1-Megawatt generators as the primary source of drying.  Justin’s presentation will detail the dryer’s performance, the cost of operation, and the process variability (as impacted by sludge feedstock type, dewatering system equipment, and generator operations).


Adrienne M. Vicari
Selling, Leasing or Retaining Public Utility Systems
(Tuesday June 6)
Adrienne Vicari will offer insight into the strategies municipalities are using to ensure their utility systems are financially secure and operating efficiently.  She will specifically discuss the leasing or sale of public utilities to private companies or other public systems and will explain the ways the valuation process is impacted by Act 12 of 2016.  She and her co-presenters will present the pros and cons of using the new approach outlined in Act 12 versus the traditional approach for utility valuation.  They will also discuss the importance of conducting a cost-benefit analysis to determine if selling or leasing a public utility is the best option for the community.  Finally, she and her co-presenters will highlight best practices for ensuring financial and operational stability.  Funding agency representatives will discuss funding sources for capital improvements.


Replacing Failing OLDS with Low-Pressure Sewer Collection Facilities and a New Treatment Facility
(Tuesday June 6)
Jennifer Miller and Mark Deimler (of Strasburg Township) will discuss Strasburg’s experience installing a new low-pressure sewage collection system and a recirculating sand filter treatment facility. Their presentation will focus on public outreach and construction sequencing as crucial factors in the project’s success.


Chad Hanley
The Long-Road to Planning and Implementing a New Municipal Sanitary Sewage System in Greene Township
(Tuesday June 6)
Chad Hanley will discuss the challenges of implementing a new sewage collection system in rural areas. He will describe how public outreach efforts helped Greene Township overcome resistance from homeowners to the cost of connecting to the system.  He will also discuss how intergovernmental cooperation and an investigation of alternative technologies helped to lower project costs.

Cranberry Highlands Golf Course: A Look Back at 15 Years of Reuse (Wednesday June 7)
Chad Hanley will discuss the successes and lessons learned from using wastewater effluent for irrigation at the Cranberry Highlands Golf Course for the past 15 years.  This highly successful project serves as a model example of the benefits of water reuse. 


Josh Fox
Regional Wastewater Effluent Solutions for Irrigation Issues
(Wednesday June 7)
Josh Fox will be discussing the ramifications of using wastewater effluent for golf course irrigation.  Fox evaluated the use of wastewater effluent for irrigation at the Sunset Golf Course in Dauphin County, and his presentation will describe the obstacles he overcame to create a successful project.  It will also discuss the potential implications this project holds for the community in terms of water conservation and improved water quality.


We look forwarding to seeing you there!


GUIDE: Are Stormwater Fees Right For Your Municipality?

Stormwater Utility Guide Stormwater costs are on the rise due to increased regulation, aging infrastructure, and the increasing frequency of heavy storms. But existing tax revenue is already spread thin by other priorities. You need more revenue to address your stormwater needs, and a utility could be the answer.

Stormwater utilities provide a dedicated stream of funding that ensures you always have the money on hand to manage stormwater issues – without competing with other budgetary needs. They also allow you to collect money from everyone who uses the service: even tax-exempt properties like churches, hospitals, and universities.  And they are a more equitable source of funding than property taxes because you charge users according to their contribution to runoff and can offer credits to people who reduce their runoff with approved techniques.

Find out it a stormwater utility could be right for your community with our guide. In it, you’ll learn

    • The many advantages of forming a stormwater utility.
    • Answers to frequently asked questions about stormwater utilities.
    • How a dedicated revenue stream can make your grant applications more attractive to selection committees.
    • How to structure the ownership and responsibility for facilities between the municipality and an authority to ensure your interests are well-protected.
    • Tips on how to build public support for a stormwater fee.
    • The first steps in implementing a stormwater utility.


Find out if stormwater fees are right for your community.

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Sanitary Sewer Overflow Solution Comes from An Unlikely Source: A Fish

Sanitary Sewer Overflow

This article on how Middletown Wastewater Treatment Plant solved its Sanitary Sewer Overflow problem was originally published in the June 2016 issue of Keystone Water Quality Manager. It is reprinted here with their permission.

No doubt a fisherman would be intrigued seeing a rock bass on the fine screen at the Middletown WWTP, but the ear tuned to hear “inflow” was even more intrigued.

The visit from the rock bass had been preceded by two decades of inflow reduction efforts due to Sanitary Sewer Overflow issue (SSOs). Yet despite increased interceptor sizes and redirected flows, the SSOs continued. A sewer system dating back to the 19th century can indeed be challenging, but sometimes solutions are inspired in the unlikeliest of ways.

Discovery of the rock bass was mentioned casually at an authority meeting, and immediately the authority’s engineer began to wonder if there was an unknown connection between the borough’s sanitary sewers and storm sewers. Rock bass are not kept as pets, of course, so the fish would not have entered the system from a toilet or home drain. It must’ve come from Swatara Creek.  There is no way the fish came through the WWTP effluent pipe, and only the local storm sewers discharge to Swatara Creek, not the sanitary sewers.  Therefore, the fish must’ve entered the sanitary system directly from a connection with the storm sewers.  But where?

After several discussions with treatment plant operators and other staff at the borough and authority, the engineer was able to narrow the search down to three possible locations, one of which was located at the site of a streetscape project under construction at the time. Searching this area for a sanitary and storm sewer connection would be very difficult because it was the heart of the borough’s downtown business district and was surrounded by a nest of other utilities and old Brownstone businesses.  Yet the effort was worth it: By carefully coordinating with the contractor, the borough was able to discover the unknown connection between the local sanitary and storm systems, and, once it was corrected, sanitary sewer overflows (and basement back-ups at local businesses) were finally eliminated!

Middletown sewer connection

This story illustrates the importance of harnessing the feedback and input of your operators and staff at all levels of an authority’s organization. Had the operators’ odd discovery of the rock bass (later nicknamed Leaky) never made it to the authority and their engineer, SSOs could’ve potentially continued in the borough for many years.  Operators possess unique knowledge of a system’s materials, construction and history.  This knowledge has real value that can lead to major cost savings like those realized by this solution to the borough’s inflow problems.

As this story shows, incorporating the input of operators and staff at all levels of an organization can make finding solutions to your most puzzling challenges as easy as shooting fish in a barrel (or fine screen).

Joshua Fox, P.E.,Josh Fox is the eastern Regional Service Group Manager for HRG’s Water & Wastewater Service Group. He has extensive experience in the planning and implementation of I/I Programs and rehabilitation projects. 


Bruce HulshizerBruce Hulshizer, P.E., is a project manager in HRG’s Water and Wastewater Service Group. He has two decades of experience in civil engineering and is an active member of the Pennsylvania Water Environment Association, where he serves as co-chair of their Collection System Committee.