City Council Moves Forward on Water Line Protection Program

Apr 21, 2015

Councilman Dan Gilman said sinkholes are often the result of a ruptured water or sewer line. This sinkhole was on Gregory Street on the South Side Slopes.
Credit Antoinette Palmieri / Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority

More than four years after the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority’s water line service protection program was scrapped, Pittsburgh City Council took the first step last week to create a new program.

This time, said Councilman Dan Gilman, homeowners will have to actively opt-in to the program, rather than opting out.

“PWSA tried to address this a number of years ago in a way that was deemed illegal, so I’ve been searching for a legal way to try to provide residents the opportunity to get a warranty on their lines,” Gilman said.

A judge in 2011 ruled that PWSA’s $5/month fee for water line warranty protection was illegal because homeowners had to opt out of the program.

Since then, many homeowners have been on the hook for repairs to sewer and water lines, which Gilman said can cost “upwards of $25,000.”

Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith all members of Council have heard from constituents about the burden of paying for such repairs without insurance. She said one elderly man’s story was particularly troubling.

“He was tapping into his retirement, and he said he doesn’t even have it to cover that,” Kail-Smith said. “I’d hate to see some somebody 80-some years old using his retirement to fix a sewer line.”

Legislation passed Tuesday by City Council would authorize the city to request proposals from companies who offer such warranty protection. PWSA’s previous program was provided by Utility Line Security of Forest Hills, a company with which former executive director Michael Kenney was found to have ties. Kenney resigned amid accusations of a conflict of interest, though he never named the protection plan controversy as the reason for his resignation.

Gilman said this time around, the RFP process will help keep the process above board and ensure that residents get the best deal on coverage.

“In this case, the city’s not even the one offering the program,” Gilman said. “Really it would be more of a joint marketing, promotional effort that the city would be taking part (in) to make sure residents were aware of the opportunity.”

Gilman said he expects the city to receive proposals over the summer and hopes that the program will be in place this fall.