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Donora couple sues over sewage plant

| Friday, March 8, 2013, 1:41 a.m.

A Donora couple filed a class-action suit against the Mon Valley Sewage Authority and Monessen city officials over a dispute involving a proposed water treatment facility.

They claim the battle will add about $10 million to the authority's debt load and, ultimately, customers' bills.

Thomas B. Kostolansky, an attorney and a Donora councilman, and his wife, Patricia, filed the lawsuit in Washington County Court on Tuesday. It stems from the stalled construction of the proposed plant in Monessen.

Along with the authority and the City of Monessen, the suit names authority board members J. Tony Menendez, Ronald Barran, Paul Berardelli and Dennis Wince, and the following Monessen officials: Mayor Mary Jo Smith and council members Lucille D'Alfonso, Martin M. Dudas, Jonmichael Retos and William Manus.

The authority system drains stormwater and treats sewage for about 2,000 customers in Donora and 3,500 customers in Monessen.

The Kostolanskys are not seeking monetary damages, but are asking the court to ensure that “members of (the) plaintiffs' class do not pay additional charges to their sewage bills as a result of the actions” taken by Monessen.

The case goes back to 1991, when the authority initiated a combined sewer overflow and long-term control plan.

The plan called for the construction of a satellite treatment plant – known as the Seneca Street Facility – in Monessen.

The treatment facility was to be developed at the site of the former Page Steel and Wire plant, on the Monongahela River side of railroad tracks behind Frank's Garage at 1 Donner Ave.

Monessen officials approved the plan in 2007, when Smith was a councilwoman, Anthony Petaccia was mayor, and Jeff Gagatko, Dale Simpson and Wayne Doptis were councilmen.

The lawsuit states that Monessen officials approved the design, placement, and construction of the Seneca Street Facility.

Those plans came to a halt when Monessen council – under a different administration – amended an ordinance Aug. 15 and rezoned the land marked for the Seneca Street Facility. Monessen solicitor Mark Shire said the zoning designation was changed to conditional use.

Since then, the authority and Monessen have been embroiled in a legal battle.

The authority has a lawsuit against the city pending in Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court.

Shire said Judge Richard McCormick Jr. recently received a written legal argument from the authority. The city has until April 15 to respond. Shire said he expects the judge to rule by late spring or early summer.

The authority also appealed to the city zoning hearing board. A hearing was scheduled last week, but was postponed pending McCormick's decision.

Shire said that as of Thursday, the city hadn't been served with the Kostolansky's lawsuit. Neither had the sewage authority, according to general manager Tom Salak, who declined further comment.

In the suit, the Kostolanskys contend Monessen's refusal to issue a building permit has caused the authority to delay its plans and to incur legal fees and costs estimated at $10 million if the treatment plant has to be built elsewhere.

Salak said customers pay a minimum of about $88 per quarter.

Monessen customers pay an extra $21 per quarter for a city-imposed sewage line usage fee. Donora customers pay $3 more per quarter for the borough's sewage line usage fee.

The Kostolanskys claim it is “unfair and unjust that their sewage bills should increase because of (Monessen's) enactment of Ordinance 5 of 2012, after it consented to all dimensions of the satellite facility within its municipal boundaries.”

The couple asked the court to:

• Order Monessen to cover extra costs if the plant isn't built at the Seneca Street site.

• Order Monessen to pay all of the Kostolanskys' legal fees and costs.

• Order the authority to increase its board to seven members, with an additional appointment made by Donora and another by a majority vote of the board. The authority board has five board members, three appointed by Monessen council and two by Donora council. There is a Donora vacancy on the board.

Stacy Wolford is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-684-2640 or at swolford@tribweb.com.

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