As Subaru plans move to Camden, a few bumps in the road

The future site of Subaru is under construction in Camden.

Six years ago, Camden County, city, and state officials announced $23 million in upgrades to the roads and sewers around the Campbell Soup Co. headquarters off the Admiral Wilson Boulevard - improvements meant to improve drainage and make the area more attractive for future business development.

In late 2014, Subaru of America announced that the company would build a 250,000-square-foot headquarters and separate training facility on the site of the former Sears store. The company broke ground in December.

The project hit an impasse this year when county officials realized that the company's site plan had been designed to funnel storm-water into the county's old sewer system, rather than the new, more environmentally friendly system installed several years ago.

Negotiations between representatives from Subaru, the county, and the state Department of Environmental Protection ended recently with Subaru agreeing to alter its design and to take additional steps to reduce water runoff.

The dispute is an example of the growing pains that may arise as companies like Subaru, which is receiving $118 million in state tax credits for moving to town, build major projects in Camden, a city that for decades experienced little commercial development.

Brian Berson, vice president at Brandywine Realty Trust, which is developing the Subaru project, said the company will end up spending more money than anticipated on making the agreed-upon changes but declined to provide a figure.

"If it's a better solution for Camden and the people who live there, we are glad to have reached an agreement," he said.

Camden's roads have long suffered from severe flooding even after minor rainstorms, which led the city and the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority to secure state and federal funding for improvements to the area near Campbell.

Andrew Kricun, executive director of the CCMUA, said a separate sewer with two pipes to carry wastewater and runoff would reduce the burden on the combined county system. He estimated that portion of the project cost at least $7 million.

After Subaru was approved to receive $118 million in tax credits from the Economic Development Authority in fall 2014, the company submitted its plans to the state for approval the following July, said Larry Hajna of the state DEP.

During that same month, however, the state transitioned to a more rigorous permitting system for governing combined sewer systems, he said, leading the state to review the plans again.

"The DEP ... concurrently performed a more detailed review of Subaru's site design, which had the entire site draining into the combined sewer system, and identified opportunities to reduce the storm-water entering Camden's combined sewer system," he said.

When the plans were brought before the CCMUA for approval this year, Kricun and other county officials raised the issue of incorporating the new drainage system into the plan.

Berson, of Brandywine Realty Trust, said Subaru would have to raise the entire site by two feet in order to accommodate the new system, which is located on the opposite end of the property. Berson said that making such a change would have cost "millions."

"This was nothing we planned for," Berson said.

But after working with the state and county officials, Subaru officials agreed to make revisions that will direct about one-third of the drainage into the separate system. Subaru also agreed to build a rain garden, which will further reduce flow into the combined sewer system, Hajna said.

Hajna praised the CCMUA, saying the utility has long been active in developing rain gardens and other projects to reduce storm-water flow into the county's overburdened system. And he said the DEP is looking ahead at how to best incorporate other major development projects into communities with similar sewer problems.

The Subaru project is expected to be completed by the end of 2017.

asteele@phillynews.com

856-779-3876 @AESteele