McKeesport residents not affected by boil water order
By Patrick Cloonan
Published: Friday, Oct. 25, 2013, 11:12 a.m.
Despite utility assurances that McKeesport was not affected by Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County's boil-water advisory, confusion still was triggered there, as well as in North Versailles Township and White Oak.
MAWC robocalls to customers said the problem affected areas north of Route 30 — and did not include McKeesport, which is south of Route 30 and not served by the George R. Sweeney Water Treatment Plant in Bell Township.
However, by dawn on Friday McKeesport was listed in advisories originating in Allegheny County.
“We're a little disappointed in how the information was put out there to the residents,” Mayor Michael Cherepko said. “There were so many conflicting stories. I think so many residents were confused, business owners were calling with concerns also.”
Customers living north of Route 30 were told of a potential deficiency in the filtration barrier at the Sweeney plant, which draws 24 million gallons daily from Beaver Run.
McKeesport is covered by MAWC's McKeesport Filtration Plant, located within city limits, which draws 10 million gallons each day from the Youghiogheny River.
“McKeesport isn't affected,” MAWC spokeswoman Gina Cerilli confirmed on Friday morning. “Part of White Oak borough is, however.”
On Friday afternoon MAWC issued a long list of White Oak streets where some or all residents might be affected.
The list includes Rainbow Village Shopping Center and calls to businesses in Oak Park Mall confirmed that it, too, is on the boil-water list.
Included are Pennsylvania, Vermont and California avenues, Carmella Drive, Lincoln Way and Cool Springs, Coulter, Foster, Jacks Run, Long Run, Lower Heckman and Upper Heckman roads.
“I assume the whole of White Oak is affected,” Mayor Ina Jean Marton said before the list was issued at the White Oak Animal Safe Haven she operates. “I just went to Home Depot (in North Versailles) and got 10 cases of bottled water for our animals.”
Marton went there because Giant Eagle at Oak Park Mall was out of water. Store officials told the mayor that they would get a new supply of water by Friday night.
“We are well-stocked for water,” said a Giant Eagle staffer who declined to be identified late on Friday.
North Versailles isn't on the boil-water list, either, MAWC told township officials.
“They are advising that North Versailles Township is not affected,” according to a Nixle alert. “However, since people are still receiving the automated message, we are advising to err on the side of caution to follow the boil alert until the problem is resolved.”
In Lincoln, which never was mentioned in any reports on the problem, officials sent a Nixle alert urging residents to “bring all water to a boil and let it boil for one minute before drinking it.”
Some in McKeesport didn't take chances, either after morning drive-time reports on various media as well as from the Allegheny County Department of Emergency Services.
“After being alerted, not only by the news media, but by Allegheny County's emergency management webpage, that McKeesport water was affected, we closed the restaurant,” said Joe Osinski, operator of Benito's Eating and Drinking Place along Walnut Street, which will become Puzzlers Restaurant & Lounge on Nov. 2.
Osinski said the restaurant destroyed inventory that could have been affected by the publicized threat. Breakfast was eliminated there on Friday morning and the restaurant threw away fish and soup prepared with allegedly contaminated water.
“We took a loss in product,” Osinski said. “We took a loss in sales, and we took a loss in payroll.”
At least one North Versailles restaurant near the township border with Westmoreland County confirmed it was not affected on Thursday and continued operations.
“White Oak borough is the only Allegheny County municipality that remains under a boil drinking water advisory,” Allegheny County officials posted on Facebook around 8 a.m. They gave a toll-free phone number, 800-442-6829, for White Oak inquiries about the situation.
“MAWC had issued a boil drinking water advisory (Thursday) and then updated it,” county spokeswoman Amie Downs said. “We just provided both as a public service update.”
Downs said she could not answer a question about how McKeesport was included in the county's earlier advisory.
“I'm sorry,” Downs said. “We've only put out what we've been provided.”
The Daily News included McKeesport in a list of municipalities affected in its Friday print edition. Cherepko said he was surprised to see that.
“Hopefully, every party learns from this and maybe come up with a plan, in case something like this comes up again in the future,” the McKeesport mayor said.
Reporting elsewhere ranged from a mention of “White Oak and McKeesport” on the 8 a.m. news on CBS Radio's KDKA-1020 to McKeesport remaining on a list posted on the website of Hearst's WTAE-4 after a Friday news conference by MAWC and state Department of Environmental Protection officials in New Stanton.
Trib Total Media staff writer Jennifer R. Vertullo contributed to this story. Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or email@example.com.
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