LA PLUME TOWNSHIP -- Two women spent their life savings to open a hoagie shop in Lackawanna County. The place was set to open back in September but to this day, the place has still not fed a single customer
Gina Jerauld thought her hoagie shop would be a community fixture in La Plume Township, right next to the campus of Keystone College. But she says a single environmental regulation keeps her from opening her doors.
The sign 'Gina's Take Out, Coming Soon' has been outside this business on Routes 6 and 11 in La Plume Township since mid-September.
The menu is posted next to what should be the drive-thru window.
Gina Jerauld and her partner Chris Brown sank almost $40,000 to equip and renovate the building at the edge of the Keystone College campus.
"I should be open right now selling food," Jerauld said.
During the summer, local building inspectors approved the renovation.
The Department of Agriculture licensed her to operate a restaurant.
The restaurant passed some of the toughest tests -- the water tests -- and it passed with flying colors. Then, days before the restaurant was set to open, a Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection inspector visited Gina's.
"He showed up the next morning and said, 'your well is not grouted. I can't let you open,'" she recalled. "It's been our dream for years, and we've finally done it, and now all of a sudden after we get it all done you say, 'Whoa!'"
The DEP told her wells supplying water to restaurants and other public facilities must be grouted, meaning the underground section of the pipe from the restaurant to the well must be coated with concrete or clay.
Department of Environmental Protection spokesperson Colleen Connolly says all wells for restaurants have required grouting since 1990.
A Penn State study shows grouted wells triple the level of protection from bacteria that can seep into wells from the ground.
"We sympathize with their frustration," Connolly said. "We have to ensure that there is safe drinking water from the public, including the drinking water from this shop."
Jerauld thought grouting rules didn't affect her because her well was once used for a previous restaurant back in the 1960s and 1970s.
But in August of this year, the DEP decided, "it should not be our policy to make exceptions from our standards just because the well is existing."
So when a DEP inspector checked out Gina's well in September, he told her she could not open because the agency rules now say her well had to be grouted.
"They should have told me in April when I was getting my water tested, and I would have looked for another building," Gerauld said.
A new well will cost about $10,000. She doesn't have the money.
"It leaves me in debt and needing a job."
And Gina's Take Out is no closer to opening than when this sign went up in September.
"I put a lot into it, I put my life into it, I took a mortgage out on my house to build it."
The DEP has suggested Gina work with its agency's ombudsman's office. It might be able to help her find grants or low-interest loans needed to get a grouted well.
In the meantime, she is running out of time with an empty restaurant on Routes 6 and 11, no customers, and monthly payments due for rent, electricity, and other bills.