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83 Municipalities, 7 Basins, 5 Years, 1 Plan – Municipal, Public and Stakeholder Participation in ALCOSAN's Wet Weather Plan

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On January 23, 2008, ALCOSAN entered into a Consent Decree (CD) with the U.S. Department of Justice that calls for the submittal of a Wet Weather Plan (WWP) to the regulatory agencies [the United States Environmental Agency (U.S. EPA), the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PaDEP), the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD)] by January 30, 2013. The plan must propose technical alternatives to eliminate sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs), control combined sewer overflows (CSOs) such that applicable water quality standards are met, and to provide conveyance and treatment capacity for municipal flows within the ALCOSAN service area. The ALCOSAN system serves over 890,000 people in 83 communities and currently includes over 300 wet weather discharge points that need to be addressed. Implementation of the plan must take place over the next 20 years and is anticipated to cost more than a billion dollars, resulting in substantial increases in sewer rates for customer municipalities and residents over the coming years. Development of the most cost effective solutions for individual municipalities and the region will require creative collaboration in addition to the technical requirements for intensive monitoring, modeling and the assessment of alternative control strategies. Recognizing the wide-spread economic impact implementing this plan could impose, ALCOSAN understands the importance of a meaningful involvement for the municipalities, the public and other stakeholders in the planning process. Given the stakes and the physical and institutional complexities of the ALCOSAN service area, broad understanding of the need for the WWP and an evolving consensus as to the plan components will be critical.

ALCOSAN's approach to developing the plan includes dividing the region into seven planning basins (Figure 1) each of which will receive focused analysis of technical alternatives specific to the particular needs of each planning basin. ALCOSAN has procured the services of seven engineering consulting firms all with extensive local and national experience developing and implementing similar wet weather overflow control programs to assist with this effort.

ALCOSAN's strategy for coordinating the development of the WWP with the 83 municipalities and other stakeholders, including the general public, is a tiered approach with extensive communication and involvement at both the basin and regional level. ALCOSAN will also capitalize on existing on-going programs and work groups that are actively addressing related issues. Figure 2 shows a schematic of the anticipated working groups that will be utilized and/or created to support the process of informing stakeholders and involving them in the planning process. Each of the seven planning basins will establish a Basin Planning Committee to facilitate coordination and cooperation between ALCOSAN and the various municipalities within the respective basins. The committees will focus on professional discussions of technical and institutional issues related to the development of facility plans, engage key stakeholder/interest groups and organize annual public meetings to publicize progress. The committees will advise ALCOSAN on the development of the WWP and inform ALCOSAN of interests and concerns of the public and the various constituencies.

Because integration and coordination of individual basin planning activities will be critical to the development of a comprehensive regional WWP that balances the needs of each basin with that of the region, ALCOSAN will establish a Regional Stakeholder Group that includes representatives from each planning basin. The work group will have objectives and activities similar to those of the Basin Planning Committees but will focus on a regional perspective. The Regional Stakeholder Group will also work to develop consistent public and stakeholder input processes across the basins by developing uniform outreach and involvement methodologies and materials. Many of the activities of the Regional Stakeholder Group will be executed by a Steering Committee and a number of standing and ad-hoc sub-committees, addressing topics such as public participation, technical or financial concerns.

In accordance with the Consent Decree, ALCOSAN will also establish in cooperation with the County Executive, a Customer Municipal Advisory Committee comprised of representatives from various customer municipalities, with at least one member from each planning basin. This work group will discuss the status and coordination of the regional collection system flow monitoring plan as well as progress and comments on the development of the wet weather plan. Collectively, this organizational framework will provide access to the planning process at both the local and regional level and forums for involvement in the broad spectrum of related topical issues through various sub-committees to ensure that all concerns are heard and considered. This approach was developed specifically to promote consensus building with the goal of developing support for the long term plan well in advance of the formal public comment period.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2008-01-01

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