Solemn service Boro considers ownership in new power plant

By on June 8, 2011

By: GARY P. KLINGER Review Correspondent, Staff Writer

Ephrata High School seniors Richard Njenga and Elina Bondarenko light a candle during Sunday's Baccalaureate service at Ephrata Community Church. (Photo by Jeremy Bischoff)Ephrata High School seniors Richard Njenga and Elina Bondarenko light a candle during Sunday's Baccalaureate service at Ephrata Community Church. (Photo by Jeremy Bischoff)

In a study presented at Monday night’s work session, Ephrata Borough Council considered the possibility it could soon acquire an ownership stake in a new power plant located in Fremont, Sandusky County, Ohio.

The move would enable the borough to better control power costs over the course of the project’s 35-year life span, and hedge against some of the huge rate spikes seen over the past several years. The study was completed at the borough’s request by GDS Associates, for the purpose of weighing the costs, benefits and risks associated with the borough moving forward with the project.

Construction of the Fremont Energy Center Combined Cycle Facility was started in 2001 by the Calpine Corporation. When Calpine declared bankruptcy in 2004, First Energy purchased the facility in a bankruptcy auction in 2007 and continued construction. It is estimated that the project is currently 96-98 percent complete, thus representing considerable savings to those participating in the project when compared to a new-built facility started with today’s figures. The ten years since the project was started are not expected to have an impact on the plant’s expected 35-year life cycle.

"What this amounts to is council’s effort to stabilize prices over the long term by participation in the Fremont Project," added Municipal Enterprises Chairman Dale Hertzog. "If the item passes, council will be agreeing to be a part owner of a generation plant with the opportunity to procure power at or below the market rate."

Power generated by the Fremont Project would account for about one-third of the borough’s intermediate power load and about 10 percent of the overall need for power. It would also help to diversify the borough’s portfolio of participation in electric generation projects, all aimed at long-term rate stability.

Asked about the borough’s cost to participate in the project, Hertzog explained that "the cost is variable due to the nature of the arrangement and will run the expected life of the generation plant."

Hertzog said the funds for purchasing power comes from electric sales revenues. He added that Ephrata anticipates purchasing the power commencing in 2014, since the borough’s 5×16 power blocks are already subscribed through 2013.

A vote on borough participation in the project is expected at next week’s regular voting meeting.

Prior to meeting, a hearing was held regarding a proposed ordinance which would define guidelines for enclosed porches within the borough limits. The new ordinance would define an enclosed porch as a porch which contains any manner of permanent partitions or walls constructed of any material or combination of materials on two or more sides. An unenclosed porch would be a porch that is not enclosed in any way except by screens, awnings, existing columns, balustrades or railings or a privacy screen, located on not more than one side. The ordinance also defines what can be considered a privacy screen as a partition or wall not less than 35 percent, of which is open area.

"The proposal for this ordinance began in 2009, before I was elected to council," explained Development Activities Committee chair Susan Rowe. "It is my understanding that, since there were no specific guidelines for porch enclosures, some home-owners were electing to enclose porches with any means possible…I heard one home-owner just nailed up plywood to enclose the porch. The council at that time heard enough complaints from surrounding neighbors, that the Development Activities Committee determined it was worthwhile to look into drafting an ordinance. When I began serving on council in 2010, and as chair of Development Activities, I "inherited" the ongoing process of enacting the ordinance."

If the new ordinance is passed, applicants before the zoning hearing board would need to submit, as part of the application for special exception, elevation drawings at a scale of not less than 1/8" = 1 ‘-0" depicting the design and exterior materials of the proposed porch enclosure. Wording of the new ordinance says that "the applicant shall demonstrate that the proposed porch enclosure will not: Increase or redirect the flow of storm water in any manner that will adversely affect another property; reduce the amount of natural light to another property; interfere with or otherwise limit access to another property; reduce any required clear sight distance along any street or street intersection; promote blight, the harboring of vectors or otherwise adversely affect the public health, safety, general welfare and property values of the neighborhood within which the proposed porch enclosure will be located."

This new ordinance seeks to better clarify the issue of enclosing porches by better defining standards and expectations. Concerns have been raised over the past several years regarding the effect of such projects on property values and the overall aesthetics. As such, all entry doors to proposed porch enclosures would need to be located parallel to the street, and no such door could exceed the size of the existing front door to the dwelling, or 3′-0," whichever is greater width. New door operation and handing shall be configured to match the original front door. All unenclosed steps, porticos or entries to the new doors would need to be aligned with the new door and perpendicular to the street. And all porch elements and ornamentation that are original to the dwelling shall be incorporated into the final design of the porch enclosure.

Key provisions of the new ordinance help to assure the general look of borough properties would retain the look of being a porch. It calls for materials to be recessed or off-set behind the outermost portions of the existing porch structure in such a manner as to retain ornate structural elements and railings and to maintain the open character of the porch. A minimal use of horizontal and vertical members would need to be employed and be located in such a manner as to match the locations of existing/original horizontal and vertical elements of the dwelling. And the enclosed porch would need to be constructed in such a manner that it would appear to remain a porch, not an enclosed room. Most important, the enclosure would be required to be compatible with the character of the immediate neighborhood.

Rowe explained a bit of the process this new ordinance has been through.

"After perusing the initial draft ordinance, it went to both the Ephrata Planning Commission and the Lancaster County Planning Commission. The committee, upon receiving their comments, requested amendments to the ordinance. The amended ordinance was then submitted again to both planning commissions for additional comments. It was from those comments that the Development Activities Committee made final changes to the ordinance. After that final was approved by the committee, the hearing notice for the ordinance was published in accordance with Borough Code. That hearing was held last night, (and) the ordinance will be voted on next Monday."

"It may be interesting to note that only one resident was present at the hearing to ask questions regarding the ordinance," Rowe added. "I believe her questions clarified the ordinance for her, and she had no objections. No one spoke up against the ordinance."

A copy of the proposed ordinance may be examined without charge at the Ephrata Borough Municipal Building, 124 South State Street, Mondays through Fridays from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. A copy of the proposed ordinance may be obtained for the cost of reproduction during the above hours.

The Public Safety Committee discussed plans to enter into a third, multi-year contract with the Ephrata Area School District providing for a school resource officer to be stationed at the Ephrata High School.

Police Chief William Harvey explained to council that the new agreement was mostly similar to the previous contracts covering from 2006 – 2008 and from 2009 to end of June this year. Based on enrollment figures presented by the school district, the percentage each municipality comprising the school district would need to pay would mirror that municipalities percentage of the school enrollment.

"I understand the school district gave percentages of enrollment from (Dr. Gerald) Rosati through (Communications Director Stephanie) Gingrich but not specific figures from which the calculations were made, " inquired council president A. Anthony Kilkuskie. "I would feel better with the actual numbers backing up the percentages. I mean those figures have to be readily available."

Mayor Ralph Mowen questioned Kilksuskie on the relevant importance of the actual figures versus the percentages. Kilkuskie responded that he would "just like to see them."

Harvey added that there remained some degree of uncertainty with regard to the actual cost of continued deployment of a school resource officer in light of the new law enforcement contract with Ephrata Township. In addition, he said borough solicitor James McManus would look over the new agreement in light of any differences between the proposed contract and contracts past. Harvey plans to disseminate the details of the new agreement to Ephrata Township, Clay Township and Akron Borough for their consideration.

In other business, council will vote to approve a request by the Ephrata Merchants Association for their Dog Days of Summer event to be held on Friday Aug. 19 in the downtown district.

Council will also consider a vote to approve Ordinance 1473, making a portion of North Oak Street a no parking zone. This was initially done on an experimental basis for 90 days. If passed this new ordinance would make that move permanent. More BOROUGH, page A6

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