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Allegheny

Pittsburgh could spend $900K to restructure PWSA

Bob Bauder
| Tuesday, April 25, 2017, 5:24 p.m.
The Lanpher Reservoir in Shaler, shown, Friday, Feb. 17, 2017.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
The Lanpher Reservoir in Shaler, shown, Friday, Feb. 17, 2017.

Pittsburgh has chosen a Maryland-based infrastructure consulting firm to manage a possible restructuring of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority.

The hiring of Infrastructure Management Group Inc. (IMG) of Bethesda is subject to approval by the PWSA board of directors, which is expected to vote Friday on a contract for the first phase of work.

Sam Ashbaugh, Pittsburgh's chief financial officer, said that IMG's proposal totaled about $900,000. He said the first phase, an evaluation of PWSA operations and needs, would account for “several hundred thousand.” Officials will decide after the first phase whether to engage IMG for the remainder of the proposal.

“Our goal for this first phase is to get us through what would be, based on their proposal, the assessment and a review of options,” he said. “I'm working to finalize the actual scope of work and cost by Friday.”

The city and PWSA are splitting the costs.

Mayor Bill Peduto empaneled a committee to oversee a possible restructuring of PWSA, which has been plagued with debt, breakdowns and water quality issues for years. The panel and city officials picked IMG from a group of four companies submitting consulting proposals.

Ashbaugh said IMG did not submit the cheapest proposal, but it was the best fit for the city's needs.

“This is something where everyone brought different approaches,” he said. “There were some vendors that they thought the city should go in a particular direction. One of the things we liked about IMG was they don't come in with any preconceived notion of what the end result would look like.”

Pittsburgh will also receive advisory help from Mayors Innovation Project, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit, which is governed by a rotating group of mayors and advises U.S. cities on best practices in public endeavors.

The project plans to send Howard Neukrug, retired CEO of Philadelphia Water, and Mel Meder, an expert in water management, to study PWSA and offer their suggestions for improvements.

Pittsburgh is seeking funding from the Downtown-based Heinz Endowments to pay for the Innovation Project's work.

“We consider it to be a worthy project, but it's premature for us to comment further until a funding decision is made,” Heinz Endowments spokesman John Ellis said.

City Councilwoman Deb Gross of Highland Park, who serves on the PWSA board, said she won't decide her vote on the IMG contract until she reviews Ashbaugh's cost estimate.

She noted that the city can't restructure PWSA without input from City Council. The authority leases the PWSA system from the city.

“I'm interested to see what the price tag actually is,” she said. “It's a very important topic, so it's probably good to start investing resources.”

Peduto said he hasn't been involved in the IMG selection process.

“I've been purposely hands-off on this task force so that they can make an independent recommendation,” he said. “This still needs to go through a public process with City Council and a public process with PWSA before there's any final selection.”

Staff writer Natasha Lindstrom contributed. Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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