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Hinge Park, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from Payton Chung’s photostream

The Allegheny County Sanitary Authority’s EPA-mandated wet weather plan calls for spending nearly $3 billion dollars over the next 10 to 20 years in order to reduce the pollutants that flow into our rivers after every rainstorm. This project represents the largest and most disruptive infrastructure undertaking in the City of Pittsburgh in our lifetimes. And ratepayers are going to bear the brunt of the costs, with rates going up as much as 200 to 300% for City of Pittsburgh residents. The current ALCOSAN proposal calls for the construction of massive concrete holding tanks under our rivers and an expansion of the ALCOSAN sewage treatment plant. Our polluted rivers are a serious problem that must be addressed but we have other problems, like flooding in our neighborhoods and erosion of our hillsides, that this plan does not address. If we are going to spend this much money and ask ratepayers to contribute more every month, this plan has to be reconsidered and we have to work to ensure that the community benefits flow from this massive investment of public resources. We can use this as an opportunity to green our neighborhoods, create good jobs, and alleviate flooding in our neighborhoods.

1. A Green Alternative

For more than a year, I have been working with the Clean Rivers Campaign and County Executive Rich Fitzgerald to push for a green alternative to the ALCOSAN plan. A community-enhancing plan is well within our reach. It has been done in Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Cleveland, New York City, and San Francisco. There is no reason that we can’t do it here.

In neighborhoods like Homewood, Larimer, and Hazelwood we have acres and acres of vacant land that is lying unused and providing no benefits to the people who live around it. We can activate this land and use it to begin to develop a green approach to stormwater management. Working with the stakeholder groups that have been involved in wet weather planning in the region for years, community organizations and Allegheny County, we can put unemployed residents of these neighborhoods to work creating beautiful parks and greenspaces on these vacant tracts. These spaces will serve as stormwater buffer zones to slow the flow of water and absorb a good deal of it before it enters our sewer system and our rivers. Once these large neighborhood parks and greenspaces are developed, we can begin to build housing around them, creating new communities and new housing options for neighborhoods that haven’t had them in years.

We can create jobs, green our neighborhoods, and provide desirable new housing options while solving our stormwater management problems and saving money in the process.