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Study examines sewage line upgrades

| Saturday, June 18, 2011, 12:00 p.m.

Significant repairs to aging sewage lines across the region would prevent waste from bubbling up on private property and the region's waterways -- as often occurs in hard rains or snowmelts.

Officials attending the third annual Congress of Neighboring Communities on Friday in Oakland released a study examining how to operate, manage and upgrade 18 sewage lines that serve multiple communities.

The lines, known as "trunks," connect sewers from 22 communities -- including Crafton, Edgewood, Penn Hills, Ross and Wilkinsburg -- and have a direct-flow connection to the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority and the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority, which provide sewage treatment for nearly a million people in the county.

Officials said ALCOSAN will perform its own broader study during the next 18 months.

The regional undertaking will be significant, said Jerry Brown, municipal support manager with the nonprofit group 3 Rivers Wet Weather, which gave CONNECT a $95,000 grant to complete the study.

"It could be one of the largest public works projects undertaken in this region," Brown said.

A long-standing consent decree from the state Department of Environmental Protection orders communities to eliminate or significantly reduce the amount of sewage flowing into streams, creeks and rivers.

The study's co-author, attorney Jim Roberts of the Eckert Seamans law firm, Downtown, said municipal officials must figure out equitable ways to pay for the maintenance and repairs since some of the current agreements between communities, dating to 1911, are based on outdated population figures or don't include provisions for future maintenance.

There are various ways to pay for the improvements, including issuing a municipal bond, adding a fee to water bills or levying a tax on residents, said Roberts, who also co-chairs the Act 47 Team overseeing Pittsburgh's finances.

"No matter which option is selected, you've got to finance them," Roberts said.

Chris Sandvig, regional policy manager for the Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group, a coalition of community leaders, said the cost for studies and repairs for the entire region was estimated at about $3 billion in 1997.

"Think about that today. It's unbelievable," Sandvig said. "It's putting some communities quite literally under water."

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