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Alcosan plan to reduce sewage under way

Aaron Aupperlee
| Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014, 9:20 p.m.
Demolition continues at a site where Alcosan will expand along Preble Avenue on the North Side on Tuesday, November 25, 2014.
Justin Merriman | Trib Total Media
Demolition continues at a site where Alcosan will expand along Preble Avenue on the North Side on Tuesday, November 25, 2014.
Alcosan and McKees Rocks Bridge aerial photograph from Monday, September 22, 2014.
Alcosan and McKees Rocks Bridge aerial photograph from Monday, September 22, 2014.

Demolition work has started at a North Side packaging facility that the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority bought as part of a $2 billion plan to reduce the sewage that flows into rivers and streams during storms.

Once demolished, the site of the former Menasha Packaging Co. plant on Preble Avenue, just outside Alcosan's security gate, will house the sewer authority's vehicle maintenance garage.

Construction of the maintenance garage and two other buildings — a customer service and training building across the street from the Menasha site and an operations and maintenance building just inside the plant's gates — will free space inside the plant for an expansion needed to comply with an order from the Environmental Protection Agency.

“It's been a domino effect,” David Borneman, director of engineering and construction at Alcosan, said about consolidation of departments into the buildings. “We'll be able to tear down other buildings.”

The EPA mandated that Alcosan cut the 9 billion gallons of untreated wastewater that annually flow into rivers during heavy storms to 4 to 5 billion gallons by 2026. Alcosan estimated the plan will cost about $2 billion and raised rates by 17 percent this year, and will increase rates by 11 percent each of the next three years to help pay for the project.

Final details of the plan are under negotiation between Alcosan, the EPA, the Department of Justice and state and county environmental regulators.

About $1.2 billion could go toward building underground storage tunnels. Municipalities could shoulder $500 million for improvements to their systems. Alcosan intends to spend $300 million to nearly double the processing capacity of its plant.

Opportunities for expansion, however, are limited. The Ohio River and railroad tracks squeeze the plant into a 59-acre triangle, about the size of 53 football fields, under the McKees Rocks Bridge. In that space, Alcosan plans to increase its capacity to treat wastewater from 250 million gallons a day to between 480 and 600 million gallons, said Douglas A. Jackson, director of operations and maintenance.

Alcosan purchased the 3.4-acre Menasha site in 2008 for $2.5 million. The authority will spend $240,000 to demolish the six buildings on the site and an estimated $6 million to construct the garage, Borneman said.

The garage will include a green roof, rain gardens and possibly solar panels, Borneman said. Alcosan has been under pressure to incorporate green elements into its $2 billion construction project.

About 70 people attended Alcosan's board of directors meeting last week to demand the authority implement more green infrastructure in the overall project. Jennifer Rafanan Kennedy, director of the Clean Rivers Campaign, believes Alcosan intends to spend about 3 percent of the $2 billion on green initiatives and is disappointed with the authority's lack of transparency.

“It's a real concern to us that as ratepayers, we're footing the bill for this, but there hasn't been a transparent view,” Kennedy said.

Alcosan spokeswoman Jeanne Clark disputed the 3 percent claim and said the authority is “infusing the plan with green wherever we can.”

Alcosan intends to release more information on the plan once negotiations finish, she said.

Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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