Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Fairness Needed to Clean Up the Three Rivers

Whenever it rains here in Pittsburgh region – even just a little bit – stormwater runoff from rooftops, parking lots, roads and sidewalks runs into the sewers. There is so much water that it overwhelms the system and that sewage and stormwater are discharged into the Monongahela, the Allegheny and the Ohio – our beloved Three Rivers.

The federal government has mandated that the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority (ALCOSAN), the main sewer authority in the Pittsburgh area, fix this problem. This will be the region’s largest public works project ever and it is ALCOSAN ratepayers that will bear the cost.

Ratepayers in the 83 southwestern Pennsylvania municipalities that ALCOSAN serves will see a cost increase of 60% over the next four years to pay for the purchase of a $70 million bond to finance the project. And that $70 million is just a small fraction of the total projected cost of over $2 billion. Ratepayers will be seeing many rate hikes in the future.

It is very important that the money for fixing this problem be invested wisely, fairly and in a way that brings the most benefits back to our communities. Other communities facing the same mandates have decided to invest in green infrastructure strategies that catch as much of that stormwater where it falls instead of letting it go into the sewer in the first place.

This includes planting trees, installing permeable pavement, building green roofs etc. When those communities made that choice they found that the got many other benefits beyond catching the stormwater. The green investments created jobs. They raised property values. They revitalized business districts. They produced cleaner, cooler air. They reduced flooding.

We want to live in a clean, vibrant Pittsburgh with good jobs and healthy neighborhoods. We have the opportunity to invest in that future now. It is up to us to ensure that this biggest ever public investment creates economic opportunities and healthy communities for generations to come.

ALCOSAN’s original plan was to build big tunnels under the three rivers. This plan was rejected by the EPA because it didn’t give us the clean rivers we need and deserve. ALCOSAN is negotiating with EPA on a new plan but their public announcements indicate they are still planning to prioritize the tunnels.

The Sierra Club is a founding member of the Clean Rivers Campaign. The Campaign is calling for a public meeting to support investing ratepayer money in the wisest way possible. We want all members of the community to pay their fair share of the cost. We want an assistance program for ratepayers who will be unable to pay the large rate increases that are coming. We want maximum benefits coming back to our communities.

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