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Rural PA community plagued by poor water service

Plus: About 20% of eligible Penn State Commonwealth Campus employees accepted buyouts

This is Talk of the Town, a free weekly newsletter delivering top news from State College and the surrounding region.

June 6, 2024
Inside this edition: West Ferguson Township residents plagued with poor water service, Penn State trustees deliberated Beaver Stadium renovations in private, and about 20% of eligible employees accepted PSU buyouts.
Georgianna Sutherland / For Spotlight PA
Real quick: Rock Spring Water Company has operated for years despite leaks, outages, and violations of state policy. Customers are frustrated but fear big rate hikes if the system is sold, Spotlight PA’s Marley Parish reports.

A little more: Linnet Brooks wasn’t surprised when she went to brush her teeth one night in early March and the faucet ran dry.

She texted her neighbors in a group chat to discuss these kinds of outages and left messages on the emergency and general lines for Rock Spring Water Company, which is privately owned and serves about 500 properties in rural Centre County.

About an hour later, Brooks’ water came back on with no explanation for the interruption.

Had the issue lasted longer, she would have relied on the gallons of bottled water she keeps in the pantry. Other Ferguson Township residents in the western part of the municipality have adopted similar solutions.

“It feels a little bit like living in a developing country,” Brooks told Spotlight PA.

A four-month Spotlight PA investigation found customers served by Rock Spring’s roughly 20-mile system have been failed by the company, state regulators, and elected officials. Efforts to find new ownership have gone nowhere, while years of neglect have led to crumbling infrastructure, low water pressure, regular outages, and sometimes lengthy boil water advisories.

Interviews with a dozen people — including customers, elected leaders, and former township staff — reveal deep frustrations with the water company, but also a sense of resignation. That’s because customers fear a takeover of the shaky system would lead to significantly higher bills.

Such anxiety is not unfounded. A 2016 Pennsylvania law empowered private utility companies to pass acquisition costs to customers, resulting in major rate increases across the state.

“The sentiment was that everybody would like it to be better,” Peter Buck, a former township supervisor, said of customers and ongoing issues with Rock Spring. “But did they want to pay a whole bunch more for more reliable water?”

The full story: Read more here.
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Spotlight PA launched a new weekly newsletter focused on caregiving and caregivers across Pennsylvania. Every Tuesday, “How We Care” features original reporting and perspectives on how we care for one another at all stages of life, the huge economic and policy questions ahead, and how it’s affecting the lives of millions of people across the state. You can sign up for How We Care here.
Hyner View State Park in Clinton County, via Don H.

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Hyner View State Park in Clinton County
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» June 7: Country music singer Miranda Lambert performs at Peoples Natural Gas Field in Altoona, Blair County.

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» June 8-15: The weeklong Brookville Laurel Festival in Jefferson County is packed with events, including Art in the Park, a car and bike show, family activities, a parade, and more.

» June 10-18: Wellsboro, Tioga County, celebrates the state flower with the 81st annual Pennsylvania State Laurel Festival. Highlights of the weeklong event include a pet parade, concerts, an arts and crafts fair, and more.
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