Feds May Help with Cost of Fixing Sewers
Aug 9, 2006 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
By David Templeton
Aug. 9, 2006 (Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News delivered by
With rainwater and melting snow infiltrating crumbling sewer
lines -- and federal pressure to fix those problems growing --
Alcosan and the 83 communities it serves face a $3 billion
But Congress could come to the rescue.
Three Republican House members visited the Allegheny County
Sanitary Authority yesterday to show support for a bill that would
provide $7. 5 billion annually to help defray the $300 billion to
$500 billion cost over 20 years to repair or replace antiquated
sewerage systems nationwide.
U. S. Reps. Phil English of Erie, Melissa Hart of Bradford Woods,
and Tim Murphy of Upper St. Clair said House Bill 4560 -- the Clean
Water Trust Act -- will help upgrade the nation's sewer-line
infrastructure, reduce water pollution and improve public health.
Pennsylvania alone needs $8 billion in immediate upgrades and
repairs, they said.
"This won't be sufficient to solve the problem. That will require
state and county involvement," Mr. English said. "But we shouldn't
let state and local governments do it alone. "
Without action to repair faulty systems, communities, including
the 83 served by Alcosan, would face bans on new development and
fines, among other sanctions.
In coming months, a federal consent decree will be filed in
federal court in the next step to force Alcosan and its customers to
repair sewer lines and prevent rainwater from infiltrating their
Rainwater infiltration creates overflows that force Alcosan to
release sewage into the Ohio River. Such releases are illegal.
For now, Alcosan treats 25 million gallons of wastewater each
day, but only half of that volume is billable sewage, Alcosan
spokeswoman Nancy Barylak said. Most of the other half is water
infiltration created when homeowners route gutters into sewer lines
or crumbling terra-cotta lines allow groundwater infiltration.
The federal decree will require those problems to be corrected,
Ms. Barylak said.
Fixing them will cost Alcosan $1 billion and the 83 communities
it serves $2 billion. Once the decree is filed, public hearings will
be held to discuss how they will comply under deadline.
No one can say for now what percentage of the $3 billion in local
costs would be covered if the House bill becomes law.
But without the bill, Alcosan Executive Director Arletta Scott
Williams said Alcosan fees could quadruple in coming years to meet
mandates in the decree. The same could hold true for fees that each
community would assess its customers.
Alcosan would have to "raise rates at an exorbitant pace," she
said. "It would be significant. It would be disastrous. "
Ms. Hart said all communities want to comply with the law and
upgrade sewerage systems, but they lack money.
"When you think it all the way through, this issue leaks into
other issues that we've been trying to solve," she said.
Those issues include improvements in environment, public health
issues and economic development.
If the bill does pass, she said, Alcosan and the communities it
serves will be in good position to land trust-fund money because of
the large number of communities involved, including Pittsburgh.
Alcosan has 320,000 customers.
"Anything will be a benefit, a bonus," Ms. Williams said.
If the bill doesn't pass, she said, the area still must comply
with the law and decree.
"Ultimately it will happen, and the ratepayer will bear the
burden," she said.
Newstex ID: KRTB-0159-10127920