Wastewater consolidation could offer lower rates, elimination of odor

Thursday, February 13, 2020 | 3:49 PM

Sewickley and Leetsdale have approved an Act 537 plan governing the consolidation of wastewater treatment, and development work could begin early next year.

Faced with a $14 million debt burden and an estimated $5 million in future repair costs to run the borough’s wastewater treatment plant, Sewickley council began exploring the idea of shipping waste to Leetsdale in late 2018. The plant also produces a foul odor that has drawn complaints from residents.

Representatives from Sewickley and Leetsdale Municipal Authority have discussed the issue and collaborated on an Act 537 plan, which the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) requires for new wastewater treatment projects. Act 537 plans outline wastewater disposal needs and proposed treatment solutions.

“This whole plan was the result of the effort of Jeff Neff and Sewickley borough looking at alternatives to create a win-win situation for everyone, to potentially lower their current sewer rates,” said Leetsdale borough engineer Dan Slagle of Nichols and Slagle Engineering, who helped lead the effort to craft the Act 537 plan.

Sewickley and Leetsdale adopted the plan on Dec. 18, 2019, and Jan. 9, 2020, respectively. Leetsdale Municipal Authority and Sewickley Borough will continue to bill their customers separately. Sewickley ratepayers could see an eight percent reduction in rates, as opposed to a 12% increase if the borough keeps operating its current plant. In Leetsdale, ratepayers are looking at a 27% savings from regionalization.

While the estimated savings could vary depending on future construction bids, Slagle added that everyone involved will likely benefit.

“I think it’s not just a positive thing for Sewickley’s residents – it’s a positive thing for all eight municipalities that are involved in it,” Neff said.

Leetsdale Municipal Authority also serves Edgeworth, as well as portions of Leet Township and Bell Acres. Sewickley’s plant, at the corner of Ferry and Chadwick streets, serves residents of Glen Osborne, Aleppo Township and Haysville. In addition to Sewickley and Leetsdale, Slagle said residents in the other six municipalities should see reduced rates as well. He said the Act 537 plan is currently being presented to the other municipalities in the service area.

Neff said spending more than $5 million for improvements to the current plant would be a bad financial move and that council should have chosen to ship waste to Leetsdale when it last considered the issue more than 10 years ago. Sewickley took out a $6.6 million loan to upgrade its current plant in 2009, according to a Post-Gazette article from Nov. 5 of that year. The borough’s plant was 52 years old at the time.

Neff also noted the optimal location of Leetsdale’s plant in an industrial as opposed to a residential area.

“Leetsdale has it placed in the proper place, they have room for expansion, we do not. And they actually have a better process, they use an aerobic process which doesn’t smell … our plant in Sewickley has been a nose sore for the residents for all these years, including the Sewickley Community Center,” Neff said.

Leetsdale’s treatment plant went online in June of 2010 and has a permitted average flow of 0.950 million gallons per day, according to information provided by Scott McCullough of Nichols and Slagle Engineering via email.

Opting for a regional approach doubles the number of ratepayers, meaning any future debt will be spread over a larger group of people. Slagle also said DEP must approve the Act 537 and that the consolidation requires permitting before work can go out to bid – ideally in early 2021.

Wastewater treatment in Sewickley is run by the borough, and Neff said the plan is to retain the two current employees, to operate a pump station in the borough. Sewickley Water Authority will continue to provide potable water to residents, he added.

Neff also noted that property values surrounding the decades-old plant will likely go up after consolidation occurs.

“Regionalization is always talked about and encouraged by municipalities but seldom happens, it’s only when you have individuals like Jeff Neff pushing the wagon forward that reality happens,” Slagle said.