The U.S. House has passed an amendment by Representatives Mike Doyle (D - PA - 14) and Tim Murphy (R - PA - 18) that could mean funding to remedy sewer overflows in Allegheny County.
The amendment - the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) - aims to finance the creation or renovation of water and wastewater infrastructure through low interest rate federal loans, loan guarantees and possibly grants.
Doyle said he has been working for years to secure federal monies to bring outdated local sewer systems into compliance with modern water quality laws.
He said the sequester made it difficult for local governments to fund infrastructure projects.
“So you have a local government like Allegheny County that their only option at this point is to go to the rate payers and say, ‘You know, we’ve got to fix this problem, it’s a health hazard, there’s raw sewage leaking into the ground water and it’s got to be abated and its $3 billion, and we’re going to have to raise everybody’s sewer rates to pay for it,’” Doyle said.
He said while WIFIA will not reduce rates, it will protect against a dramatic increase as a result of the sequester.
Doyle said this is especially important for Allegheny County because it is currently under a Department of Justice consent decree to deal with sanitary sewer overflows.
The cost of that project could be more than $3 billion, which he said is beyond the ability of local government to finance.
“So this will go a long way in helping them when they float a bond issue,” Doyle said. “The federal dollars in the loan guarantee will get them much more favorable interest rates and could amount to almost a grant in the neighborhood of 20 percent of the project cost in the interest savings.”
He said the sewage systems need to be updated- they are old and have a lot more impact on them than they were built to handle.
“Two things have happened in the last hundred years: the systems are a hundred years older, and Allegheny County has a lot more people than it had a hundred years ago,” Doyle said. “I mean the North Hills was farmland when a lot of these systems were built and now you have all those homes and shopping centers that are impacting the system.”