Share This Page

Alcosan's projected sewer upgrades could cost 'mind-boggling' $50B

Alcosan could need as much as $50 billion to complete federally mandated improvements to the water treatment system it runs in Allegheny County, according to a review by Pittsburgh and county auditors.

County Controller Mark Patrick Flaherty and city Controller Michael Lamb released an audit of the authority Thursday to bring early attention to the bill expected from what likely will be the biggest municipal project in the history of Western Pennsylvania, they said.

Alcosan must find outside sources of money to avoid laying huge bills on customers to pay for construction, likely not to start until 2016, they said.

"The numbers are really mind-boggling," Flaherty said at a news conference. "This is one of the most frightening economic projects facing us."

The Environmental Protection Agency gave Alcosan 20 years to triple its capacity and reduce sewage discharge into rivers. That means the authority might need to run new pipes, update pipes or build holding tanks in the 83 communities it covers.

The final cost likely will be between $10 billion and $50 billion, Flaherty and Lamb said. The sanitary authority will not have its own estimates until it finishes a plan for its regulators due in 2013, Executive Director Arletta Scott Williams said. She complimented the auditors' work, but she said evolving technology could change the cost estimates.

Without outside money, the average household could have to pay between $425 and $3,104 annually just for rate hikes, the audit found. Businesses could have to pay $3,516 to $25,684 more annually. And there could be municipal tax hikes on top of that, as Alcosan's communities try to pay billions more in their fees.

"The authority will make every effort to minimize impacts on ratepayers," County Executive Dan Onorato said in a statement in which he called the repairs an "unfunded mandate. "We will work with federal and state legislators to obtain funding and employ new technology, sustainable practices and green infrastructure to reduce costs."

The need for repairs arises from a 2007 federal court agreement to stop billions of gallons of untreated sewage leaking into rivers and streams every year because Alcosan doesn't have the capacity to handle surges of storm water during rain.

The authority already paid a $1.2 million fine and started tracking water in its system to find out where it all comes from.

Auditors reviewed 19 months of work by the authority, in part to determine its compliance with the mandate. Now they will turn their findings over to Onorato and Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl so they can work on a plan to fund the project, Flaherty said.

The authority has followed the federal orders, Lamb said. Its only problem came in failing to properly document some decisions while awarding contracts. However, officials had justifiable reasons for those rare decisions, Lamb said, and they agreed to better document such decisions in the future.

"We think they've done a pretty good job," Lamb said.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.