Thursday, April 2, 2009
The city and county controllers are hoping a newly released audit of ALCOSAN will shed light on a looming crisis. The audit looked at the authority’s efforts to comply with a federal consent decree forcing it to end sewage overflows by 2026. The audit found the authority is facing $10 to $50 billion in infrastructure upgrades to make that happen. County Controller Mark Flaherty says that would be the largest municipal project ever undertaken in Southwestern Pennsylvania. He calls the numbers “mind boggling.” City controller Michael Lamb says if a fairly conservative number of $21 billion dollars is used, residential rate-payers will see an increase of $1,760 a year. He says people do not usually think about their sewer bills but they will when that happens. He says he hopes the audit will serve as a “siren” to elected officials to start lobbying Harrisburg and Washington for help. Without government help the full cost will land on the ratepayers. ALCOSAN Executive Director Arletta Williams says she agrees with the numbers. She says it is hard to make any solid estimates because they are still trying to get a handle on the extent of the problems and the best way to fix them. Williams says the authority cannot save up funds to cover the capital costs, so ratepayers will see big jumps once ground is broken for the upgrades. She says that will come some time after 2016. The audit also looked at ALCOSAN’s contracting practices. The report found the authority has solid policies in place but when there was a deviation from the policy there was often not enough substantive documentation. Flaherty says when the board stepped away from the policies it usually had good reason. Thos reasons were relayed to the auditors but they were often not written down at the time the contract was awarded. Williams says that will be remedied going forward.