Lower Burrell to vote on $11.5M revitalization project

| Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, 1:33 a.m.

Lower Burrell Council is expected to vote on Monday on launching a proposed $11.5 million revitalization project.

On Tuesday night, council heard an outline of what, for now, is a three-phase project from Deborah Gestner, a certified grant writer who was once Brackenridge's borough manager.

The overall project is tied together by improvements to the sanitary sewer system that the city is required to make under a federal consent decree.

The first phase of the project focuses on what Gestner referred to as “the city's core,” the main business district along Leechburg Road from Craigdell Road to the Route 56 Bypass.

That part of the overall plan would involve a Streetscape project featuring upgrades to lighting, landscaping, sidewalks, curbs and traffic intersections.

It would include an effort to develop the former J.C. Penney/Montgomery Ward property that has been vacant and deteriorating since 2005.

The second phase largely would address sewer improvements needed in the city's Kinloch section along Greensburg Road and in the area along Dutchman Run Road.

The third phase would tackle the same problems at the other end of the city where there are septic systems in use in the areas surrounding St. Mary Cemetery on one side of the Route 56 Bypass and on the other side in an area off Hulton Road where there is a mobile home park.

“In my mind, this is a total revitalization opportunity,” Mayor Don Kinosz said.

As a participating municipality in the Municipal Sanitary Authority of New Kensington's system, the city faces the prospect of spending several million dollars to upgrade its own sewer system under the federal decree. It's aimed at eliminating stormwater from infiltrating the sanitary sewers, which can lead to the treatment plant being overwhelmed in a heavy rain. That, in turn, can lead to sewage bypassing the plant and being discharged into the Allegheny River.

Councilman Richard Callender said if the city does its own sewer system improvement project, it should lower the cost of the system upgrades which the New Kensington authority is undertaking and, in turn, lower the city's cost as well.

“We're talking about taking a major problem and turning it into a major opportunity,” Kinosz said.

The lion's share of the money for the project, about $9.25 million, would come from grant or grant/loan programs through the federal Departments of Commerce, Agriculture, and Housing and Urban Development and the Environmental Protection Agency. Securing that funding would be Gestner's job.

Another $2 million could come in a state grant if the city's Capital Budget Request is approved. Kinosz said that will not be decided for at least a year. Gestner said that would have no effect on the applications for federal funding.

The city would have to come up with $250,000 to put the plan into gear, Gestner said. That money would go for engineering costs and for Gestner's fee for the first six months.

Gestner said her fee would be $10,000 a month for services that include project management, planning, and writing and applying for grants.

Kinosz said Gestner started working on the plan after getting council approval in July and has been paid $11,000 to date out of funds set aside for economic development.

Gestner said she has put in more than 200 hours of work on the project and about 75 percent of that has been at no charge to the city.

Council, if it votes on the plan as expected, also would be voting on spending the initial $250,000.

Kinosz said the city does not have any budget surplus to draw on and council would not consider a tax increase for that purpose. That would leave a loan as the most likely option for the city.

Kinosz said he would want benchmarks in place to measure Gestner's progress and also the ability to end the city's involvement in the plan at any time.

“If we don't invest in our future and take the bull by the horns, nothing will happen,” he said.

Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4675 or tyerace@tribweb.com.

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