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Penn Hills, Wilkins at odds over fees for sewer service swap

| Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012, 10:17 a.m.
Alison Smith, MD/PhD student at Tulane University Medical School, New Orleans, La., provides de-worming medicine to children in Haiti. Smith is founder and director of SanteTotal, a volunteer organization of Tulane medical students and physicians that provides healthcare to residents in Jacsonville, Haiti.
Alison Smith, MD/PhD student at Tulane University Medical School, New Orleans, La., provides de-worming medicine to children in Haiti. Smith is founder and director of SanteTotal, a volunteer organization of Tulane medical students and physicians that provides healthcare to residents in Jacsonville, Haiti.

Wilkins officials are balking at a Penn Hills joint sewer-use proposal that would charge Wilkins $775,203 to tap into a sewer line at the Lougeay Road area, especially since Penn Hills might use some of Wilkins' sewer line at a much lower price, they said.

Wilkins had hoped that a swap of sewer services would cost about $100,000 for both towns, which have been discussing a joint deal for at least 10 years, Wilkins Manager Rebecca Bradley said.

“If there is a cost to be paid moving forward, I get that. But that cost is not three-quarters of a million dollars,” said Bradley, who said Penn Hills' proposal to recoup some of the millions it has spent on court-ordered sewer work since the 1990s jeopardizes the deal.

Penn Hills officials don't think the proposed tap-in fee is excessive. The municipality's taxpayers spent $8.91 million to install the lines Wilkins wants to use, said Penn Hills Manager Mohammed Rayan in an email.

Furthermore, Wilkins wants to use 1.12 miles of one of Penn Hills' lines and 2.19 miles of another, while Penn Hills, if it decides to use a Wilkins line, would be using 0.61 miles of one of Wilkins' older lines, he said.

“It is our opinion that this is not an even swap,” he said.

On Sept. 12, Wilkins sent Penn Hills a letter requesting an explanation of how it calculated the $775,203 fee, Bradley said.

Wilkins' request to use Penn Hills' system is the result of an overflow issue at Lower Rodi Road — wastewater is spilled into the Thompson Run Creek during wet weather, she said.

To resolve the issue, Wilkins wants to make four connections with Penn Hills' sewer system, including connecting the Penn Hills Lougeay sewer line to Wilkins' line at Ridgecrest Drive, Bradley said.

Wilkins must present a proposed solution to the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority, or Alcosan, by June in order for the township to comply with a 2004 consent decree mandated by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Meanwhile, Penn Hills has a pump station at Lougeay Road that needs repairs.

To resolve the problem, it is considering eliminating its pump station, and diverting flow from that station to Wilkins' sewer line at Lower Lougeay.

Penn Hills has spent millions of dollars upgrading its sewer system as a result of civil and criminal court cases from the 1990s.

In 1991, the Environmental Protection Agency and other government agencies sued the municipality for illegally dumping raw sewage into the tributaries of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers.

As part of a settlement, the municipality was required to hook its sewers into Alcosan, and spent more than $50 million to upgrade its system.

Penn Hills paid a $7.4 million tap-in fee to connect to the Alcosan sewer system, Rayan said. He added that the Plum Borough Municipal Authority paid Penn Hills $2.3 million to connect to its sewer system, referring to an action ordered by the state and EPA.

“Therefore, if Wilkins elects to utilize the Penn Hills sewer system, they need to pay their fair share just like everyone else,” Rayan said.

Bradley, however, countered that Wilkins has also made upgrades to its sewer system, for which it is not asking Penn Hills to pay, and that taxpayers in both towns would incur higher costs if each town does its own sewer work.

“It's about moving forward and what's in the best interests of those communities,” she said.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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