Thursday, September 11, 2014

Letter to Pittsburgh - an issue none of the papers or the local tv news folks will cover.

      ALCOSAN is about to spend 3 billion dollars.
      Of your money.
      If their plan to fix Pittsburgh's sewers and storm water overflow goes into action - and it will in December- your utility bills will go up by a factor of ten.
      For two decades.
      A working family of four will spend 8% of their monthly income on their utility bill.
      And that's the first part of the ALCOSAN plan.
      They could spend 2 billion more.
      Of your money.
      You can change their plan, alter it, slow it down, make it smarter. Because it's your money.
      The word "green" is thrown around a lot these days and frankly it's kind of exhausting. Plastic bottlers make smaller caps and talk about saving the world. Hotels call themselves green when they ask you not to use their towels when really what they're saving is laundry costs. Car companies are green when their car uses 10% electric, oil companies are green......well, because they pay their advertising agencies a lot of money to say so.
       ALCOSAN doesn't mess around. Their expertise is construction. Their solution is resolutely grey. It's made of concrete and steel. Tubes, tunnels and tanks which when finished will do nothing to change the fact that water gets into the sewers and rivers too fast. And in 50 years their concrete and steel will have to rebuilt, all over again. Just about the time our grandkids have finished paying the bill.
       But if ALCOSAN spent 1/5th, a 1/6th, even a tenth of their total budget (your money) on a preliminary green sewage solution, on stuff on the surface that costs less to build and employs people for years to maintain, then your utility costs would go up a Hell of a lot less than a factor of ten.
     And your town would have parks and trees and fewer floods and a municipal bidg that doesn't bleed electricity and maybe a public garden and a bike path all of which sounds like trinkets but which in truth will save you money. All of this physical stuff, trees along your creek, parking lots that absorb water, parks that act like filters for what would normally end up in your sewer or the river, all of this stuff adds up to mean less spent on a construction plan which was obsolete 30 years ago . Which will allow you to pay that extra tuition bill, which will let your family have a vacation that year rather than staying home, which will let you be part of a new Pittsburgh rather than a bystander.
     A lot's been said about a new Pittsburgh. How we're going to be the new Portland, the new Austin, the new hot town.
     We can build all the cafes, and farm to table restaurants, and artisanal bars, and condos we want and we'll be doing nothing but spreading ice cream over mud.
     10% of the population enjoying their new start up jobs and eating well while the sewers pollute the river, and bus routes are cut, and taxes ascend is not a new Pittsburgh.
      You rebuild the basic infrastructure of this city, you fix a problem that is damaging the economic opportunities of 80% of the people who live here - then you can call it a new Pittsburgh.
      And when I mean you, I mean us.
      I'm not asking you to tell PNC to change the shape of their new skyscraper. That's their money.  ALCOSAN is a public authority. Your bills pay for it. Your mayor, your county exec appoint its leaders.
      You tell them to change the plan, they'll change it.
      You don't, you'll pay. And pay, and pay. 


  1. Congratulations on your article, an alert in the first place.

  2. David,
    I am the public information officer at ALCOSAN.

    You make a number of very important points, but you are also relying on old information. Rather than engage in a blog fest back and forth, I would like to talk to you directly about this post.

    I think you would be pleased at ALCOSAN's support for green infrastructure to remove and reduce the flow of stormwater in local communities, as well as our commitment to greening our own campus. We recently were named the top winner on water in the Green Workplace Challenge; our new buildings are LEED certified; we are creating green roofs on every structure possible; and were named a Bike-Friendly Workplace by Bike Pittsburgh.

    Please call me at 412-734-6222 any time. I would be more than happy to meet with you and take you for a tour of our facilities.

    Even better -- You could come to ALCOSAN's Open House on Saturday, September 20 from 9 - 4 --- it's the region's largest environmental festival and it's free for everyone. We have more than 40 exhibits on science, water, the environment, and more. We even offer students extra credit for some of the hands-on experiments. For more info, go to

    It's a great event, and I hope you and your readers will be our guests and join us.

    Thank you for your commitment to this region we all love, and I look forward to speaking with you.

    Jeanne Clark

  3. Interesting. I will stay tuned for scenes from the next episode. :)

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