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Residents of 4 communities may bear sewage treatment plant cost hike

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By Stephanie Hacke and Dona Dreeland
Wednesday, April 9, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
 

A drastic increase in the proposed cost for upgrades to a Pleasant Hills Authority sewage treatment plant has local officials saying the change will trigger a similar hike in residents' bills.

Communities covered by the Pleasant Hills Authority — which handles sewage for Pleasant Hills, portions of Baldwin Borough and Whitehall, and South Park Township — last month agreed to a 90-day extension on a new service agreement with the authority, while municipal leaders try to determine why the cost of upgrades to a sewage treatment plant in the authority went from an estimated $11 million to $23 million.

“What we're ultimately concerned with is how it's going to affect our residents' bills,” said Baldwin Borough Council President Michael Stelmasczyk. “Is that $23 million absolutely necessary?”

The Pleasant Hills Authority, along with the contributory communities, are under a consent decree with the Department of Environmental Protection, requiring them to reduce inflow and infiltration in the system. Included in this are required upgrades to the sewage treatment plant, along with individual fixes in each community.

A new service agreement between the communities and the authority will require payments on a flow-based structure, instead of water consumption.

In 2011, members of the contributary communities said they were told the cost for the treatment plant upgrades would be $11 million.

That number changed in February to $23 million, Pleasant Hills Councilman William Trimbath said.

Authority manager Jean Crane said that engineers previously thought some of the older working parts could be reused at the nearly 50-year-old plant.

Each new replacement adds to the cost.

“We're not replacing everything, and we're looking up the maintenance history,” Crane said.

Pleasant Hills Council questioned whether the plant had been over-designed, a concern seconded in Baldwin Borough.

“There has to be equipment that is absolutely necessary to meet the DEP mandate. Then there's equipment that is not part of the DEP mandate that is still part of the project,” Stelmasczyk said.

Baldwin Council members asked for a breakdown of the ‘mandated' and not-needed, but wanted, parts of the project.

If the project costs $23 million, the average sewage bill in Baldwin Borough would have an $144 annual increase due to improvements in the Lick Run Watershed, Stelmasczyk said.

An initial third-party review of the project estimated the cost between $4 million and $5 million, Stelmasczyk said. How the cost got to $11 million remains unknown, he said.

Baldwin Council asked for another third-party engineer review of the project, which will be conducted.

With the municipalities' engineers working with the Authority, Crane said she hoped to come to an agreement that could be reviewed by mid-April.

Whitehall leaders, also, are asking to have more of a say in the future.

Whitehall, whose residents will be responsible for about $2 million of the $23 million, does not have representation on the Pleasant Hills Authority board, said Councilman Ryan Barton.

Whitehall sent a letter to Pleasant Hills Council, which makes the appointments for the board, asking for representation. Baldwin Borough has one member on the majority Pleasant Hills board.

Barton said he would hope that the Pleasant Hills Authority would adopt a capital improvement plan, so that the residents would not be hit with increases all at once.

Baldwin Borough, along with Whitehall, both also are part of Alcosan, which is under a separate consent decree and faces a different set of rate increases in the future.

Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5803 or ddreeland@tribweb.com. Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or shacke@tribweb.com.

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