Kiski Valley sewer plant project to start at last
After weathering lawsuits and nuclear contamination, the Kiski Valley Water Pollution Control Authority will break ground Wednesday for the its long-planned $28 million sewage treatment plant in Allegheny Township.
The two-year project will more than double capacity with new tanks, several new buildings and upgraded technologies on a 2.5-acre parcel on the authority's site along Pine Camp Road.
The authority's Allegheny Township plant can handle 12 million gallons of sewage and water per day during peak flows.
The new plant will be able to process 31 million gallons a day during heavy rains.
The plant will sit on the site of a former lagoon which once held radioactive ash that originated from the defunct nuclear fuel processing plants in Apollo and Parks. The plants were once owned and operated by the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corp. (NUMEC) and its successors, Atlantic Richfield Co. and Babcock & Wilcox.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the federal agency charged with regulating nuclear material, wanted to keep the contaminated ash on the authority's property.
The authority and Leechburg environmental activist Patty Ameno joined to fight to have the materials removed, and they prevailed to have the cleanup project completed in 2007.
“We would have been in big trouble without having that property available for the treatment plant expansion,” said authority Manager Bob Kossack. “We would have had to purchase more land.”
A new beginning
The 15 chrome shovels for next week's ceremony are testament to a new beginning of complying with current and future federal and state clean water laws.
There will be greatly reduced discharges of partially treated and raw sewage into the Kiski River.
Like many sewage system providers across the nation, the Kiski Valley Water Pollution Control Authority has been dealing with aging lines and combination storm sewer and sanitary lines that send sewage into local waterways.
That can include drinking water supplies.
During hard rains or a rapid snow melt, the onslaught of sewage and stormwater from the authority's 13 communities overwhelms the treatment plant in Allegheny Township. Since the plant can't handle all the water and sewage, the authority has to divert partially-treated and raw sewage directly to local waterways.
“The main driver for the new plant was the combined sewer overflows and federal regulations that came in 1994,” Kossack said.
Sewage treatment plants nationwide are now required to capture 85 percent of all their sewage during heavy rains and wet weather.
Kossack said that the authority was only capturing about 60 percent of the raw sewage during those times.
Local fixes may have been cheaper
So Kossack visited the authority's 13 communities, pleading for them to fix their sewage systems, which were old, leaking and outdated.
“I didn't want the communities to pay twice,” Kossack said. “I didn't want to see residents pay to fix the problems at the plant then have to pay to fix the collection problems in their local sewer systems.”
But that's what happened.
Although some towns fixed their systems faster than others — late bloomers Vandergrift and Leechburg are still working on critical sewage projects — the authority's treatment plant was still getting swamped with sewage during heavy rains.
“I have got to believe that if all of the communities had fixed their systems,” Kossack said, “there would just be upgrades for the existing equipment in the plant, which we could have done in stages.”
But now customers pay a variable sewage rate, which differs among the communities.
Flow monitoring identified the communities that contributed the highest volume of sewage and stormwater and the authority charged higher rates to the residents in those communities.
Not surprising, the highest rates charged by the authority were applied to towns with the oldest and most problematic sewage systems — Leechburg and Vandergrift.
Those communities sued the authority on those new usage rates.
Last June, Westmoreland County Judge Gary Caruso dismissed the lawsuit brought by Leechburg and Vandergrift.
Currently, the authority is resolving a countersuit it filed. Although it's still in court, Kossack expects the case to be resolved in a few months.
The authority will calculate the variable rates of all of its customers when the project is completed in two years.
Residents in communities with recently- installed sewage systems are expected to pay a lower variable rate at that time, according to Kossack.
Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4691 or firstname.lastname@example.org.