Columbia wastewater plant

The Columbia wastewater plant is seen in a photo from Columbia Borough's website.

It's rare for funding to come in too early for a municipality's capital project, but in Columbia Borough that seems to be what's happened.

Pennsylvania's Alternative and Clean Energy Program approved a loan request for the borough to purchase and install an anaerobic digester at the site of the wastewater treatment plant, according to a press release from state Sen. Ryan P. Aument.

But, the idea to convert the plant for this use is still in the research phase, Ron Miller, acting borough manager said.

About a year ago, Miller and former borough manager Sam Sulkosky began looking into options that would allow Columbia to get some use out of the wastewater plant site after Lancaster Area Sewer Authority takes over wastewater treatment for the borough.

After rejecting windmills due to cost, the borough hired Tetra Tech Inc. to study the feasibility of putting an anaerobic digester on site. Council approved the $5,600 study.

Anaerobic digesters convert biodegradable material, such as food waste and septage, to biogas.  The gas, in turn, can be combusted and used to generate electricity or heat.

"The study came back with very positive results and a tentative price tag of $1.7 million to retrofit the facility," Miller said.

In late November, Miller and newly hired plant manager John Bender applied for the state's ACE money, asking for $853,000 — half of the cost of the project.

Usually, Miller said, it takes at least six months for grants or loans to be approved but "this one was awarded very quickly and ahead of our plans."

The amount of the loan also is less than what was requested. According to the press release, "The Borough of Columbia will provide $1,194,389 in matching funds." Which means the award is about $511,000.

The timing and size of the award aren't the only challenges.

If the deal with LASA goes through as planned,  Miller said, it could take two years to construct the pipeline and pump station. Wastewater would be diverted from the treatment plant.

Details of a bulk services and assets agreement with LASA are still being worked out, although the sale was approved months ago.

Miller said a formal proposal for council to consider is several months away.