Allegheny County communities struggle with sewer project's likely costs
Etna borough Manager Mary Ellen Ramage is looking at a bill of $15 million for federally mandated upgrades to its sewer system — a price tag, she says, that may be out of reach.
“This is primarily a blue collar town. Who's going to move somewhere where sewer bills are several thousand dollars a year? People living in a $50,000 house just cannot afford that,” she said.
Etna and 82 other Allegheny County municipalities served by the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority must upgrade their sewer systems to comply with a federal order that they reduce raw sewage spilling into creeks and rivers during heavy rains. These towns not only face construction issues, but questions about who should pay the $500 million cost of municipal improvements and how much they should cooperate, officials said.
“The interests of so many different communities could slow things down significantly,” said Jim Good, interim executive director of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority.
In recent weeks, nearly all of the 83 municipalities submitted draft plans of their improvements to the authority, which is planning an upgrade of its system, putting the overall cost of all work at $2 billion.
“The model we have for a project of this size is not sustainable. Eighty-three towns and more than 500 elected officials,” said John Schombert, executive director of 3 Rivers Wet Weather Inc., a nonprofit that helps municipalities address sewage and stormwater problems.
Schombert is a member of a panel assembled by the Allegheny Conference on Community Development — a regional economic development group — that for the past year has studied ways to regionalize operations or even consolidate the county's entire sanitary waste system.
“We would like to see a real strong commitment to integrate systems,” said Brian Jensen, a senior vice president of the conference, who is overseeing the panel.
“There are lots of questions about how this will work, what it means for the environment, what it will cost and who will pay,” he said. “There are places that just don't have the community wealth to resolve it.”
The city of Pittsburgh has said it must install new and bigger sewer pipes, separate lines for sewage and stormwater and add a 6 million gallon holding tank to address stormwater problems. Good says the city's cost will be between $100 million and $200 million.
“The city's plans could change. We are holding meetings, at the request of the mayor, to incorporate more green technology,” he said.
In Monroeville, John Capor, general manager of the Monroeville Municipal Authority, is overseeing construction to bring the authority's 11,500 customers into compliance with the 1972 Clean Water Act, He expects it all to cost $30 million.
“Rates will have to go up a lot. By how much, I really don't even know,” he said.
Monroeville's hefty price tag is in line with what other municipal officials expect to spend — $24 million in Shaler and at least $10 million in the tiny blue collar borough of Millvale, for example.
Municipalities must submit final plans to Alcosan by July 31.
The $2 billion Alcosan plan will be submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency at the end of January.
Some preliminary municipal plans seem to raise as many questions as they answer.
“You might have four or five communities sharing a sewer that might not agree on how to split the cost. There are lots of questions and problems in this kind of multi-municipal situation,” said Jerry Brown, operations manager at the South Fayette Township Municipal Authority.
The sheer cost of the improving treatment of wastewater and storm water treatment makes some resist the sort of cost-sharing that would be automatic in a regional system.
“There's no way that my ratepayers in Monroeville should be paying for upgrades in other communities,” said Capor.
Yet Shaler's manager, Tim Rogers, says that communities like his are already sharing infrastructure – like a wastewater line that's shared by Shaler, Ross, Indiana and Millvale. The cost of repairing that line is about $40 million.
“These arguments are a waste of time. We are all upset about the price tag of this. Wastewater and stormwater do not stay in one community. And nothing has been done to address how poor communities are going to pay for this,” Rogers said.
He would prefer that Alcosan manage inter-municipal sewage tunnels.
“There are hundreds of them in this county. If Alcosan owned them, it would affect their ability to fix the problem,” he said.
Alcosan spokeswoman Nancy Barylak did not return a call for comment.
Right now, those tunnels would feed into tunnels Alcosan plans to build along the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers that would feed into its sewage treatment plant along the Ohio River.
Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or at email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
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.
- Rossi: Pirates plan to carry Hurdle deep into playoffs
- Steelers’ Tomlin does not like his coaching style to be characterized
- State trooper shot and killed during training exercise
- Knife-wielding man attacks 2 in Sheetz lot in Greensburg
- Coalition kicks off effort to revamp education funding
- Steelers notebook: Tomlin bringing officials to practice
- McKeesport council considers amending adult business ordinance
- McKeesport man charged with sexually assaulting girl, 11
- Penguins notebook: Malkin picture muddy
- Pittsburgh rises up for a 2nd year of Pirates magic
- Despres is relishing his regular role on Penguins’ blue line