By Jamie Wiggan
After several hours of public discussion and multiple voting misfires, McKees Rocks has now agreed to bring its sewage systems into compliance with federal law.
Council ultimately voted April 12 in favor of a consent agreement setting out minimum improvement standards it must meet over the next six years.
But earlier during that meeting, a 5-2 majority voted to delay signing for at least another month.
Between those counteracting votes, the borough’s lawyer, engineer and a third-party consultant all cautioned councilmembers against defying the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, warning of penalties and other consequences if they failed to comply.
“In order for us to be able to abide with the law, there’s gonna have to be some modifications,” said Doug Evans, borough engineer.
The agreement requires McKees Rocks to reduce the amount of untreated sewage and rainwater that gets captured and conveyed to the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority’s treatment plant.
Currently, large portions of combined rain and sewage water collected in McKees Rocks end up in local rivers and streams without being treated.
More than 80 other municipalities with older sewage infrastructure face similar issues and have also been served with agreements from the DEP.
Council President Archie Brinza, who along with Councilmember Jeff Dusch opposed the original vote, expressed frustration with his colleagues when they tabled the measure at the beginning of the meeting.
“I disagree wholeheartedly,” he said. “I think it’s going to affect our residents and this town much more than you think.”
Councilmember Nick Radoycis, who led the charge against the agreement, said he was concerned McKees Rocks would shoulder excessive burdens from sewage channeled into the borough from Stowe and Kennedy.
“It just seems to me we’re being extorted into doing this,” he said. “I don’t like the tone of it, I don’t like the wording, and I don’t like that there’s no recourse, so we’re stuck with it.”
Two hours later, Radoycis said he felt better with the terms, after hearing assurance from Evans and David Montz of 3 Rivers Wet Weather, a non-profit organization funded by ALCOSAN that works to bring municipalities together around shared sewage responsibilities.
Montz also presented to council a week before the voting meeting in an attempt to win their confidence in the contract. He emphasized that it only requires a 10% improvement of the borough’s collection rate during a six-year period, and highlighted measures in the contract giving leniency to communities with financial difficulties.
“It’s probably the best offer you can get,” he said.
“The worst thing you can do is walk away.”
When the vote first arrived on the agenda on March 8, council approved the agreement before revisiting the motion and voting it down.
Radoycis led the charge in this case as well, suggesting ALCOSAN should shoulder more regional responsibility.