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PWSA gives $350K contract to its fourth director in 2 years

Bob Bauder
| Friday, June 23, 2017, 1:24 p.m.
PWSA workers repair a 12-inch water main on the 1300 block of Pennsylvania in Manchester earlier this year. (Trib photo)
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
PWSA workers repair a 12-inch water main on the 1300 block of Pennsylvania in Manchester earlier this year. (Trib photo)

The Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority's executive director changed for the sixth time in seven years on Friday, highlighting the instability at an agency contending with complaints about lead levels in the water and a halted partial lead pipe replacement program.

Authority board members voted unanimously, and without discussion, to make Robert Weimar interim executive director under a contract that's worth up to $350,000.

Weimar, who previously served as the interim director of engineering, will be paid $175 per hour for up to 2,000 hours, according to the contract terms.

Weimar, 67, a New Hampshire resident and graduate of the University of Massachusetts, who is staying in the Strip District, said he had planned to leave the authority this month until the board recruited him for the position. He had been acting as interim director since March.

Weimar said he accepted the job because “I wanted to be able to show that I could move an organization from being somewhat dysfunctional to being extremely functional.”

“I think the reason they came to me is because I've been here for three years and I had a high degree of working knowledge about what was going on,” he said. “I've been at this 45 years. I've done a number of large systems of this type, so I understand the components. I understand the sewers. I understand stormwater. I understand water. I understand treatment.”

For years, the authority has been plagued with high debt, poor customer service, neglected infrastructure, sketchy billing and water quality issues, including lead contamination of water lines.

Mayor Bill Peduto has said PWSA needs as much as $5 billion in infrastructure improvements to provide residents with clean water.

The authority this year began replacing publicly owned sections of lead pipes that supply water to residential customers, but halted the partial replacements when tests revealed the practice greatly increase the amount of lead in the water flowing to some customers.

Weimar plans to focus on PWSA's lead problem and capital improvements to outdated infrastructure, some of which dates to the Civil War Era.

He said the authority should invest $150 million annually in infrastructure.

It means residents will be paying more for water.

“The money has to come from rates,” Weimar said. “We are expecting, however, some infusion of funding from the state.”

A revolving door of top managers — there have been four in the past two years alone — has been a trend at PWSA since 2010 when Executive Director Michael Kenney resigned after an Allegheny County judge ruled a water line insurance program he engineered was illegal.

Stephen Simcic and Thomas Palmosina shared executive director's duties until 2012 when the PWSA board contracted with Veolia North America to run the authority. Jim Good, a Veolia employee, served as interim executive director until the board hired him full-time in 2015.

Good resigned in March 2016.

David Donahoe, former director of the Allegheny County Regional Asset District, followed Good as interim director for six months before stepping down.

Directors at that time voted to appoint K. Charles Griffin, a county administrator in Virginia, as executive director, but he withdrew after questions surfaced about his termination from a similar position in South Carolina.

Bernard Lindstrom, a retired U.S. Army colonel from Upper St. Clair, served in the post from September 2016 until March, and has since been hired as a consultant at an annual rate not to exceed $75,000.

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312, bbauder@tribweb.com or via Twitter @bobbauder.

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