Sewer problems haunt arena area

Property owners worry that Consol Center may add to woes

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For some Fifth Avenue property owners near the Consol Energy Center, today's big flush could be the least of their worries.

They fear the opening of the new arena in August could exacerbate sewer problems that have plagued part of the corridor over the past several years.

Attorney Edward Friedman said sewer back-ups caused damage to his building at 900 Fifth Ave. in 2006, 2007 and 2009. He spent $74,000 to replace carpet and drywall, repaint and clean up after a backup during a major storm last June.

After that last incident, Mr. Friedman surveyed other property owners in the 700 to 1000 blocks of Fifth Avenue and found the vast majority also had experienced sewer-related problems during the storm, including the Beth Hamedrash Hagodol-Beth Jacob synagogue at 720-810 Fifth.

One property owner, Ira Frank, said his problems at 1020 Fifth have increased since the arena construction started. "We had problems before but they were incredibly rare. It's been exaggerated since they started this project across the street," he said.

Many other property owners have not experienced back-ups since the June 2009 storm, but there are fears that the addition of the arena, with much of it fronting Fifth, could overtax the existing system.

"The flooding situation we had before the erection of the arena hasn't been addressed yet. To put an arena situation on top of that, we definitely have huge concerns," said Colin Kelley, CEO of NeighborWorks Western Pennsylvania at 710 Fifth.

Unlike Mellon Arena, the new Consol Energy Center will tap into the same 96-inch combination sanitary-stormwater sewer line that serves many of the property owners along Fifth.

Given that fact, the issues that caused sewer back-ups in the past should have been addressed before adding the arena to the mix, Mr. Friedman argued.

"To put in the new arena and not account for this problem or solve the problem of these owners who have been here a long time is, quite frankly, not acceptable," he said. "You can't build a new ... $300 million facility and not care for the long-standing owners of these properties who are flooding."

But Penguins management says the potential for problems should decrease, not increase, with the presence of the arena.

Travis Williams, the team's senior vice president of business affairs and general counsel, said studies done before the construction showed that storm and waste water flows from the new arena will be "significantly less" than those that existed prior to the project when other buildings and businesses occupied the area.

He also said part of Consol's green features include a drainage system designed to capture rain water and channel it into the ground rather than dumping it into the sewer system.

Most of the complaints of property owners rest not with the Penguins, but the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, which they claim has not done enough to resolve the issues that have produced the back-ups.

"What they've done is nothing vigorously," said Edward Goldston, a Realtor who is on the synagogue's building committee.

Michael Kenney, PWSA executive director, disputes such charges. He said the agency has been working to find a solution to the sewer woes.

The water and sewer authority currently is investigating the potential of using an abandoned 60-inch line that runs parallel to the 96-inch line to handle some of the storm and sanitary water flow, he said.

It also has installed flow monitors in the 96-inch line to try to determine what exactly could be causing problems during periods of heavy runoff. "I want to make sure that whatever we do, we remedy the situation," he said.

The PWSA estimates it would cost about $1.1 million to repair the 60-inch line and return it to service. Mr. Kenney said the agency would have to try to find funding for the solution if it proves to be feasible.

Mr. Friedman said he and other property owners have little confidence in the water and sewer authority's efforts to solve the problem.

"They've been talking about funding for this $1 million for almost a year. This should be part of any intelligent improvements to make sure they have an adequate sewer system, and they're just not doing that," he said.

Mr. Kenney said there's little chance the simultaneous flushing of all the toilets and urinals at the Consol Energy Center today at 4 p.m. -- a test of the new center's system -- will cause any problems for adjacent property owners.

He said waste water has not been the issue, adding the 96-inch line is "more than sufficient" to handle such volume. Major storms, he noted, have been the problem.

The line is designed to handle the equivalent of a so-called 10-year storm, one that would drop about four inches of water in 24 hours. In that kind of storm, "We are approaching capacity on that pipe," Mr. Kenney said.

He said the downpour last June that caused the back-ups may have been even larger, the equivalent of a 25-year storm, or one that dumps about 5.8 inches of rain in 24 hours.

About the only time he sees any potential for an increase of flow from the new arena is if there's a major storm during a game or event.

Meanwhile, the Fifth Avenue property owners figure another back-up is inevitable. "It's only a matter of time until I get another one," Mr. Friedman said.

Mark Belko: or 412-263-1262.


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