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Townships team up to fix sewer lines

| Friday, Dec. 5, 2003

Ross and Shaler, faced with having to repair a leaky sewer line that sometimes pumps raw sewage into Little Pine Creek, are joining forces to cut costs.

Cracks and leaks mark the nearly 70-year-old line that follows Little Pine through the two communities. During heavy rains, the line overflows at two points in Shaler, pumping 20,000 to 25,000 gallons of sewage into the stream, which flows into Pine Creek in Shaler and Etna, a popular fishing spot.

Ross and Shaler were among 55 suburban communities issued orders last month by the Allegheny County Health Department to find leaks in sewer systems. Consent orders and agreements also require that communities in the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority begin monitoring flow and cleaning, inspecting and repairing systems by June. The orders and agreements run through 2010.

Similar orders were issued in October to 26 other Alcosan municipalities and authorities by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The repairs are expected to cost $3 billion and take a decade to finish. The cleanup is required to meet standards set under the federal Clean Water Act.

Ross engineer Art Gazdik said the township already has videotaped its portion of the line to assess its condition and has shared the cost of monitoring flow for much of the past year. Shaler pays about $350 a month for the monitoring, Shaler engineer Kevin Creagh said.

The real savings will come when both communities replace leaky lines, Creagh said. That could cost up to $500,000, he said.

The EPA has offered two consent agreements covering Alcosan's 83 communities. The pacts would eliminate millions of dollars in fines in exchange for repairs to the region's aging sewer network.

John Schombert, executive director of 3 Rivers Wet Weather Demonstration Program, which helps local municipalities comply with agreement, said the cooperation between Ross and Shaler sets a good example.

"They're doing exactly what we hope other communities will do," said Schombert. "They're taking the first steps to doing things on a regional basis and try to benefit from the economies of scale. It puts them out ahead of everyone else."

Though no cost-sharing agreement has been worked out for the sewer repairs, projected to begin in 2005, Creagh was optimistic.

"I think it only makes financial sense for everybody to cooperate because there's really not going to be much help from the federal government," Creagh said.

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