Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Alcosan says ratepayers cannot afford $3.6 billion plan to repair sewer system - Pittsburgh Post Gazette

The Allegheny County Sanitary Authority wants to renegotiate a 2008 federal consent agreement requiring it to stop most wet-weather sewer overflows, saying its ratepayers can't afford the $3.6 billion needed to fix the problem.

To meet the agreement's deadline, Alcosan today publicly released a lesser, $2.8 billion wet-weather control plan that includes construction of new storage tunnels and sewer lines and expanded treatment facilities to capture and treat 5.4 billion gallons of raw sewage and storm water overflows a year.

Paying for Alcosan's lesser, "recommended plan" -- which does not meet the consent agreement's minimum goals -- would eventually require doubling the current annual average rate of $262 for customers in the authority's service area of 83 municipalities, including the city of Pittsburgh.

The $3.6 billion plan, which does meet water-pollution control goals, would more than triple the current Alcosan billing rate, moving it significantly higher than the 2 percent of median household income an Environmental Protection Agency affordability index indicates ratepayers can afford.

"Our recommended plan scales back in terms of timing and priority," said Arletta Scott Williams, Alcosan's executive director. "The $3.6 billion is not affordable for our ratepayers, not a responsible plan. You can't get blood from a turnip."

While acknowledging that Alcosan's proposed plan "doesn't meet the terms of the consent agreement," Alcosan solicitor Chester Babst III said the agencies involved "should look for ways forward that are both affordable and provide the best environmental impact."

The EPA has been meeting informally with Alcosan during the planning process, but has not responded to the request to renegotiate. David Sternberg, an EPA spokesman, said the agency hadn't reviewed Alcosan's recommended plan and therefore, "It would be premature to comment at this time."

The recommended plan would expand daily treatment capacity at the Woods Run plant to 480 million gallons of sewage for primary treatment and 295 million gallons for secondary treatment. Current capacity for primary and secondary treatment is 250 million gallons a day.

The plan also includes construction of storm water storage and 10 miles of conveyance tunnels upstream from the plant along the Ohio, Monongahela and Allegheny rivers.

Alcosan has scheduled 13 public meetings on its proposed plan. The first meeting is set for Aug. 16 at the Sheraton Station Square Hotel on the South Side.

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