The U.S. Department of Justice's apparent willingness to modify the consent agreement between Alcosan and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regarding sewer system improvements is good news "for Alcosan, for the region and for the ratepayers," said Arletta Scott Williams, the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority's executive director.
The 2008 federal consent order mandated that Alcosan eliminate all illegal sanitary sewer overflows into the Pittsburgh region's rivers and reduce overflow from combined sewers by 2026.
Alcosan submitted its $2 billion wet weather sewer system plan a year ago, which proposed using "gray infrastructure" fixes to capture and treat 79 percent of the region's combined sewer overflow, but asked for more time to draft a plan that included elements such as "green" infrastructure and flow reduction.
It seems as though Alcosan will now get the chance.
"I think everything's on the table, and green [infrastructure], and flow reduction, is a part of that," Ms. Williams said Friday. She said she does not expect a complete revision of the already proposed plan.
A Justice Department letter Alcosan received Friday also "contemplates a high level of regional cooperation and coordination" in achieving sewer system improvements," an Alcosan news release said. Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said Friday he believed there will be increased regional cooperation as an updated wet weather solution is crafted.
"I think there's a willingness, from what I'm sensing throughout the region, to work together on this plan," he said.
The communication from the Justice Department "proposes a specific path forward" for Alcosan and regulatory agencies including the EPA, the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Allegheny County Health Department to negotiate a "mutually acceptable agreement" by the end of April. A request for comment from the Justice Department Friday was not immediately returned.
Friday's communication from the Justice Department comes one week after the EPA said that Alcosan's proposed wet weather plan was deficient, and that it did not comply with some of the goals set by the 2008 order.
But the EPA did not formally disapprove of the plan, and last week local officials, including Mr. Fitzgerald and Mayor Bill Peduto, lauded the news as a chance for the region to create a plan that incorporates source reduction and green infrastructure components, which could include rain barrels and grass roofs.
After the Justice Department weighed in, so too did members of Pittsburgh's congressional delegation, with Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, and Keith Rothfus, R-Sewickley, issuing a joint news release lauding the Justice Department's offer to renegotiate the consent agreement.
To comply with the federal consent decree, Alcosan began a series of rate and service charge hikes in 2008. Alcosan increased rates by 17 percent in 2014, and plans increases of 11 percent in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Ms. Williams said it was "hard to say at this point" what effect the latest development regarding the consent decree will have on rates.
Kaitlynn Riely: email@example.com or 412-263-1707.