Audit says Allegheny County sewer fixes could cost $21 billion

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An audit of the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority released this morning estimates the authority might need as much as $21 billion to comply with a federal order to upgrade its storm water and sewer management system.

Allegheny County Controller Michael Patrick Flaherty and city of Pittsburgh Controller Michael Lamb said their review of Alcosan -- from January 2007 to July 2008 -- shows the authority will face a huge funding hurdle in the next 15 to 20 years.

"We want people to be aware of this now," said Mr. Lamb.

He and Mr. Flaherty revealed that the authority's funding troubles may lead to as much as a $3,104 annual rate increase for ratepayers in the Alcosan system if the authority doesn't receive any outside funding to help pay for its system-wide upgrade, slated to start in about five years. Businesses served by Alcosan, they added, could see a rate increase anywhere between $3,000 and $25,000 annually, they said.

"You should be aware that in the future, your sewerage bill is probably going to cost more than your water bill," said Mr. Flaherty, adding that the amount of funding the authority needs over the next 15 years will be "the largest municipal project ever undertaken in our area."

Alcosan reached a consent decree last year with the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Allegheny County Health Department over charges that it has been releasing untreated sewage into rivers and streams for years.

Both controllers said that so far, the authority has complied with all the requirements of its consent decree, paying $1.2 million in civil penalties and is in the process of putting together a comprehensive Long Term Wet Weather Plan to be submitted to regulatory agencies by 2013.

The authority, however, has not been complying with all of its contracting practices and procedures in some cases, said Mr. Lamb.

"They get in a little trouble for not following their written procedures when there is a deviation in contract practices sometimes," he said. But he added that he was satisfied with the explanation Alcosan officials gave him regarding contract documentation.

More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.



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