$600/Year Sewage Increase for Baldwin Residents?
'It's shocking.' - Borough Councilman Michael Stelmasczyk
Baldwin Borough residents who are breathing easier after learning that a Colewood Park water basin project should be much smaller than what was originally thought might want to hold their breath again. Or at least sit down.
The basin, which would temporarily hold sewage water during periods of wet weather, could still be large enough to increase sewage rates for Baldwin residents by about $15 per month.
And combined with that increase are potential Allegheny County Sanitary Authority (ALCOSAN) rate increases—possibly $35 per month—that would also be necessary to satisfy Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) consent decrees.
Add it all up, and the average Baldwin resident could be looking at a sewage service increase of $600 per year, according to borough engineers.
"People will move," Baldwin Councilman John Ferris said when hit with the news at a special council meeting on Tuesday night.
The Colewood Park project is needed to satisfy a consent decree from the DEP, whose officials have deemed that sewage water from south Baldwin and the nearby municipalities that also contribute to the Lick Run waterway has led to overflow in a Pleasant Hills Authority water treatment plant.
ALCOSAN, a sewage service provider of Baldwin's, will also need to make adjustments to its sewage handling in order to satisfy the DEP, and the cost for all of these adjustments—unless another way is found—will be handed over to citizens/customers.
"Six hundred dollars (more) a year is pretty upsetting," Baldwin Councilman Michael Stelmasczyk said, directing borough Manager John Barrett to draft a letter to local legislators on behalf of the Baldwin Council opposing the DEP's orders and asking for the legislators' help in any way.
"It's shocking," Stelmasczyk said. "I don't understand how a federal agency (the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA) can just dictate this to happen," pointing out that EPA and DEP officials are non-elected. "It's outrageous.
"We have to get this out to the public."
The DEP's orders stem from a wet water problem that is common around the Pittsburgh area. Periods of wet weather (rain) typically cause an increase in sewage water flow due to a number of reasons—leaky sewage pipes being infiltrated by rain, homes set up to dispense of storm water and sewage water in the same way, and others. Watch an animation on the 3 Rivers Wet Weather website for further explanation.
Baldwin Borough workers or contractors must complete the Colewood project, which is being recommended by the firm of Lennon, Smith, Souleret Engineering, Inc., or make other adjustments to lessen its sewage flow in the Pleasant Hills Authority system by June 2015.
The Colewood project would include the installation of a long stretch of pipeline that would run from roughly Hollowhaven Drive to the railway that crosses Horning Road.
It is not known what ALCOSAN's adjustments will be or how much time ALCOSAN officials will have to make those adjustments.
Essentially, DEP officials are trying to prevent flooding. (UPDATE: Nancy Barylak, ALCOSAN's manager of public relations, said that ALCOSAN's parts of consent decree compliance are for the reduction of sewage entering clean waterways, not flood control.)
Stelmasczyk warned Patch readers in December following a 2012 budget meeting (comments section) that an ALCOSAN sewage increase finalized then was "simply the tip of the DEP iceberg."
He added on Tuesday, "A zero overflow requirement is just absolutely impractical. You can't build a system with no inflow from outside. It's impossible."
Engineer Larry Souleret explained what he believes to be the DEP's position, citing experiences that he has had hearing some DEP officials speak.
"Basically, to kind of summarize the EPA's position and what the position of the DEP was going to be, that was, 'The days of $40 and $50 a month sewer bills are over'—that, 'Everybody's been ignoring the problem for so many years that it's gotten to the point that something has to be done.
"'People are out there spending $120 a month or more on Comcast, but they're not willing to spend money on water or sewer systems because they don't care about it.
"'The water comes on when they turn the faucet on and the toilet flushes, and they don't see the problems. But when the TV goes out in the middle of the Super Bowl, they get upset.'
"That's their (the DEP's) mindset."
But Baldwin Mayor Alexander R. Bennett Jr. believes that TV service and sewage service don't compare. Bennett said that residents have more options to switch cable providers than they do sewage service providers.
With such high sewage rates possibly coming to the area, Council President David Depretis took Ferris' concern over being able to keep people in Baldwin to another level.
"There's not gonna be anybody left in Allegheny County," Depretis said.
Added Stelmasczyk, "They'll move to where there's no consent order."
No formal action was taken on Tuesday night regarding the Colewood project, but engineer Ned Mitrovich said that Baldwin's council members are expected to show DEP officials within a couple of weeks that they're serious about controlling the borough's sewage.
Barrett said that the large sewage cost increases discussed on Tuesday are still far from being official numbers, but if deemed necessary, they could hit Baldwin by 2014 or 2015.
The average home's sewage rate could jump to $100 per month.
A regularly scheduled Baldwin Council agenda meeting immediately followed Tuesday's special meeting. Check back with the Baldwin-Whitehall Patch throughout Wednesday for stories from that meeting, including notes regarding on-street parking and lock boxes for fire companies.
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