Alcosan sewer project gets little public input

$2.8 billion proposed for improvements

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Maybe the folks who care about Alcosan's proposed $2.8 billion sewer improvement project -- billed as the largest public works project in the region's history -- aren't morning people.

Or maybe the weather these past few weeks has been too nice to talk about reducing wet weather sewage overflows that now occur after 30 to 70 storms a year and can last for days at a time.

Whatever the reason, few people have attended four 9:30 a.m. meetings Alcosan has held around the region to gather public comments on sewer system improvements designed to significantly reduce the 9 billion gallons a year of storm-caused sewage overflows into the region's creeks and rivers.

But the next six public meetings -- including two this week -- will begin at 6:30 p.m., and Nancy Barylak, manager of public relations for the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority, expects higher attendance numbers.

"It's difficult to get people interested in this," Ms. Barylak said. "But, yes, I think they have been successful. We're getting great questions and dialogue going back and forth. In the sewage business, we always say if you get one customer to a meeting, it's a success."

By that low bar, Alcosan officials should be feeling flush.

The first of Alcosan's 13 planned public meetings on the proposed work plan attracted 104 people Aug. 16, but that was held in the early evening at the Sheraton Station Square on the South Side.

A much smaller number -- 13 -- attended Wednesday morning's meeting at the Crowne Plaza South Hotel in Bethel Park, and the average attendance at three others held during the past two weeks has been a shade under double digits.

Alcosan has said it will seek to renegotiate the federal consent decree because its customers can't afford the $3.6 billion needed to meet its terms. The $2.8 billion plan it will submit will capture 79 percent of combined sewer overflows and reduce overflow volume to less than 1 billion gallons a year, according to Dave Borneman, Alcosan director of engineering and construction.

The lower-priced plan will double Alcosan sewer rates, which average $262 a year, by 2026, according to the authority. The higher-priced one would triple them.

As at the other meetings, discussion and questions Wednesday centered on the cost of the plan and why it does not include any so-called "green infrastructure" -- things like permeable pavement, street and roof gardens, tree plantings and rain barrels -- designed to reduce the amount of storm water channeled into Alcosan's pipes and storage tunnels.

Alcosan must submit a final wet weather plan to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency at the end of January -- a deadline set in the consent decree approved by federal court in 2008 -- and implement it by 2026.

Heidi Nevala, a staffer representing county Controller Chelsa Wagner on Wednesday, urged the authority to include "green solutions" in its negotiations with the EPA for the lower-cost plan and in its talks with municipalities about improvements it must make to their collection systems.

Margaret Hamstead of Mt. Lebanon urged Alcosan to provide incentives to its 82 member municipalities and to Pittsburgh to "move toward green solutions."

Alcosan's next six public meetings, all starting at 6:30 p.m., are scheduled for Tuesday, IBEW Circuit Centre, 5 Hot Metal St., South Side; Wednesday, Sharpsburg Borough Social Hall, 1611 Main St.; Oct. 3, Baldwin High School, 4653 Clairton Blvd.; Oct. 4, aboard the Gateway Clipper Princess,350 W. Station Square Drive, South Side; Oct. 9, Double Tree by Hilton, 101 Mall Blvd., next to the convention center in Monroeville; and Oct. 10, North Fayette Fire Hall (The LaFayette), 7678 Steubenville Pike, Oakdale.

Alcosan's last two meetings will start in the morning and last all day: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Oct. 17, Sheraton Station Square; and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 19, Alcosan treatment plant, 3300 Preble Ave., Woods Run section of the North Side.

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Don Hopey: or 412-263-1983.


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