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Alcosan's sewer project to cost billions

| Sunday, July 29, 2012, 8:25 a.m.
Alcosan has installed booms and nets to catch debris coming through stormwater drainage lines before it can enter Chartiers Creek near Crafton on Friday, July 27, 2012. 
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Alcosan has installed booms and nets to catch debris coming through stormwater drainage lines before it can enter Chartiers Creek near Crafton on Friday, July 27, 2012. Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Alcosan has installed booms and nets to catch debris coming through stormwater drainage lines before it can enter Chartiers Creek near Crafton. The debris backs up on Friday, July 27, 2012 after heavy rain.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Alcosan has installed booms and nets to catch debris coming through stormwater drainage lines before it can enter Chartiers Creek near Crafton. The debris backs up on Friday, July 27, 2012 after heavy rain. Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Alcosan has installed traps, booms and nets to catch debris coming through stormwater drainage lines before it can enter Chartiers Creek near Crafton. The debris backs up at a trap on Friday, July 27, 2012 after heavy rain.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Alcosan has installed traps, booms and nets to catch debris coming through stormwater drainage lines before it can enter Chartiers Creek near Crafton. The debris backs up at a trap on Friday, July 27, 2012 after heavy rain. Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
The Rev. Richard Freeman, pastor of the Resurrection Baptist Church in Braddock speaks at a voter ID law rally on Wednesday, July 25, 2012, in Freedom Corner in the Hill District.
James Knox  |  Tribune-Review
The Rev. Richard Freeman, pastor of the Resurrection Baptist Church in Braddock speaks at a voter ID law rally on Wednesday, July 25, 2012, in Freedom Corner in the Hill District. James Knox | Tribune-Review

The Allegheny County Sanitary Authority has installed nets at drains and catch basins and retractable booms in rivers to prevent debris — trash, gravel, leaves, sticks — from entering the area's waterways.

Completed in June, it's a relatively cheap way to help keep the area's waterways clean.

The next step toward clean water, which Alcosan plans to announce on Tuesday, will cost billions of dollars and will take 14 years — if the work finishes on time. Preventing sanitary waste overflows into the region's rivers is complicated and certain to raise customers' water bills. It has many municipal officials wondering how they'll pay their share.

Alcosan's 10-inch-thick report, which took four years to complete, will detail how it plans to bring this area into compliance with stringent federal mandates to prevent sewage from spilling into area waterways during heavy rain.

“Everyone in the country is having to do this or has done it. It's a big and ambitious project,” said Nancy Barylak, an Alcosan spokeswoman.

Alcosan will add capacity to the 250 million gallons of water a day it treats at its Woods Run treatment facility and install new underground lines, Barylak said.

In Pittsburgh, bringing sewer lines into compliance with storm-water regulations could cost city customers from $165 million to $277 million, Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority officials said last week.

PWSA engineers have recommended 24 miles of new and bigger pipes in Pittsburgh, separate lines for sewage and storm water, and a 6 million-gallon storm-water holding tank in the Washington Boulevard area of Highland Park.

Sewage rates across the region are expected to increase dramatically as Alcosan makes the expensive system improvements mandated by federal and state water pollution laws.

Tuesday's report will focus more on infrastructure plans than on specific financial plans.

But the cost of the project is enormous.

On Friday, Barylak said the cost would be at least $2 billion but should not exceed $8 billion. In the past, Alcosan has estimated the cost to the 83 communities in its system, which includes Pittsburgh, from $3 billion to $8 billion.

The report will have a public comment period from Tuesday to Oct. 19. Starting Jan. 30, federal and state environmental regulators and the Allegheny County Department of Health will review it for a year. At the earliest, ground is expected to be broken in 2017 for completion in 2026 — a window that is of concern to some municipal officials.

“I do not think the (Environmental Protection Agency) is being realistic. It is too short of a window for spending $2 billion to $3 billion.

“This is the biggest public works project ever in this area — bigger than any of the stadiums or the North Shore connector,” said Tim Rogers, Shaler's manager and a member of member of Alcosan's Community and Municipal Advisory Committee.

Alcosan expects to pay for about 75 percent of the costs of all upgrades, while municipalities are expected to fund about a quarter of the cost.

In Shaler, complying with the consent decree would require $2 million to $4 million to build two more retention facilities.

“We would have to take debt to do that,” said Rogers.

The project has no glamour, said Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, who notes that Braddock and other Mon Valley communities have no money for upgrades.

“It's underground. You can't see it. It's not like a new bridge or a community center. But it sure costs a lot,” he said. “I do not think this community could honor these requirements without some sort of assistance.”

Mt. Lebanon last year became the first community in the region to enact a storm-water fee — about $8 per month for most homeowners. There are no sanitary overflows in Mt. Lebanon, said public works director Tom Kelley.

He worries about funding for distressed communities.

“There will have to be many more grants and loans than there are, maybe even Alcosan just taking over the service in some communities,” Kelley said.

Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or at rwills@tribweb.com.

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