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New Ken municipal authority prepares to upgrade sewer system

| Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013, 1:16 a.m.

By early next year, the Municipal Sanitary Authority of New Kensington should have a preliminary idea of the improvements — and its costs — needed to comply with state and federal environmental regulations.

Like many regional sewage authorities, New Kensington's is mandated to reduce the amount of untreated sewage that overflows into Puckety Creek and the Allegheny River during heavy rains.

Kemal Niksic with the engineering firm Hatch Mott MacDonald on Wednesday presented an update on the authority's efforts to residents and officials of MSANK's member communities, which include Arnold, Lower Burrell, New Kensington and a small portion of Plum.

Niksic said the authority must submit a long-term plan for curbing sewage overflows to the state Department of Environmental Protection and federal Environmental Protection Agency by next September.

That plan likely will include a combination of upgrades to the treatment plant in New Kensington and efforts to reduce the amount of stormwater entering the system.

Niksic said the goal will be to capture and treat at least 85 percent of sewage during heavy rains.

At the same time, the engineers will be compiling economic and demographic information to determine whether the communities can afford the full scope of improvements.

Niksic noted that the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority estimated it would cost $3.6 billion to bring its considerably larger system into compliance but is trying to negotiate a $2 billion alternative since it does not believe customers can foot the full bill.

“We'll try to do what's best for all of our communities,” Niksic said of the New Kensington authority's project.

He said the authority will pursue all grants and loans available to reduce the cost that ultimately falls on ratepayers.

Niksic said he's hoping to call another public meeting in early 2014 to present a preliminary version of the plan, which should include cost estimates that aren't yet available.

Possible improvements could include:

• Upgrades at the sewage treatment plant to increase the amount of sewage that can be treated. While the plant can pump 20 million gallons per day, it can only fully treat about 15.5 million gallons, which can be insufficient during wet weather.

In a typical year, the plant treats about 2.3 billion gallons of sewage. About 50 million gallons per year overflows from the combined sewers and 83 million gallons come from storm sewers.

• Reduce the amount of stormwater that infiltrates the system by repairing leaking pipes, manholes and other facilities.

• Add storage facilities as needed to hold excess sewage until flow decreases and the plant is no longer overwhelmed with stormwater.

• Separate some combined sewers in Arnold and New Kensington uphill of Constitution Boulevard and upgrade the Drey Street treatment plant in Arnold.

• Add “green” spaces using planters, gardens and porous concrete that absorb water and slow the rate at which it flows to the plant.

• Consolidate and expand the capacity of the combined sewer overflows in New Kensington at Fifth Street, which would have the added benefit of moving it farther away from the marina at Seventh Street.

Niksic said that has been deemed a sensitive area that should have better water quality, because people are coming in contact with the river.

“The goal here is to have cleaner waters,” he said.

New Kensington Mayor Tom Guzzo said he is happy to hear the plan, which likely will propose taking 20 years to fully implement the upgrades. They would be created in five-year phases that would allow opportunities to review how effective each phase has been.

Lower Burrell Mayor Don Kinosz said he thinks the initial focus should be on reducing the amount of unnecessary water that is entering the system, which could reduce the amount of treatment upgrades needed.

Dan “Skip” Rowe, the authority's manager, said he's pleased with the progress the engineers have made so far and the cooperation they're receiving from member communities.

“We're working hard to get this done at the right price,” he said.

Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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