By Margaret L. Smykla
Contributing Writer 

Green infrastructure discussed on Mount

 

April 27, 2021



Stormwater, Emerald View Park master plan, and clean air were the focus of the Mount Washington Community Development Corporation (MWCDC) 's "Green" Community Forum held via Zoom on April 15. 

The annual forums began in 2018, with no forum held last year due to the COVID pandemic.

The first speaker was Elizabeth Dutton, stormwater manager with the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA).

Stormwater matters because when it rains, excess water overflows rivers and homes are flooded. With better stormwater management, pollution and water into rivers can be reduced.

Pittsburgh averages 38 inches of rain per year.

Ms. Dutton said the Northeast U.S. and Pittsburgh have been getting much more rain over the past decades, as reflected in a 71 percent increase from 1958 to 2012.

She also said severe, highly-localized storms frequently overrun the sewage system and treatment capacity. From 2010 to 2019 there were 120 such severe storms in Allegheny County, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).


Our system was not built for this volume of stormwater. Compounding the stormwater problem is that we have more pavements and hard surfaces than a century ago.

To tackle these stormwater challenges, PWSA is building an innovative stormwater management system designed to absorb, capture, and slow down the flow of stormwater.

Beginning in 2022, stormwater will be billed differently, pending Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approval. Rates will be based on ERU, or equivalent residential unit, and based on aerial mapping.

Every parcel in Pittsburgh has been mapped.

Even if a parcel has no water meter, it will be eligible for payment of a stormwater bill to PWSA.

By changing how PWSA charges for stormwater, improvements in the stormwater process, over time, can be made.

The payoff should be fewer basement backups and less pollution, resulting in a healthier Pittsburgh.

In questions-and-answers, an attendee said basement flooding is not always from a backed-up sewer but rather due to a poorly constructed foundation. An internal French drain system is required.

How does PWSA differentiate between the two causes of flooding?

Ms. Dutton said a visual can make the determination, and that PWSA separates sewage backups from sewers, and from a poor foundation, in its data.

The next speaker was Kara Smith, principal environmental planning, City Planning, who spoke on the "Emerald View Park Master Plan."

The park comprises more than 250 acres of public open spaces, which includes trails, greenways, and Grandview Ave., and neighborhood parks such as Olympia Park, Mt. Washington Park, Grandview Park, Eileen McCoy Park, and Ream Park.


It is located in the Mount Washington, Duquesne Heights, and Allentown neighborhoods.

City Planning is leading the project with a consultant team led by Merritt Chase, in conjunction with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy staff. The work is supported, in part, by the state Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources.


Ms. Smith said a park master plan is a community-driven process to create a vision for Emerald View Park and define the necessary components and steps to achieve it.

It includes conceptual design, phasing plans with cost estimates, review of park plans and community needs, and a public engagement process.

Regarding the latter, one may register for the Virtual Public Workshop #3 on the EngagePGH Project Website at: https://engage.pittsburghpa.gov/emerald-view-park

The workshop will be held from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on May 20.

Ms. Smith said the next steps following the workshop will be: a month for comments; finalizing the plan about late June; Art Commission presentation; and implementation of the design starting as early this year for Phase 1.

The design and construction process can take two to three years.

To a question of whether the Eileen McCoy playground would be discussed during the May 20 workshop, Ms. Smith said yes.

To a question about expanding the scope of underground utilities beyond Grandview Ave., Ms. Smith said she agreed with the idea but that it would entail a huge expense.

It will be in the plan, but it is not "one hundred percent that it will happen," she said.

The third presentation was by Zachary Barber, a clean air advocate with the nonprofit PennEnvironment. 

He said Allegheny County ranks in the worst two percent of the U.S. for cancer risk from air pollution. The USS-Clairton plant is the third most toxic air polluter in the county.


Ten industrial facilities in Allegheny County emitted more than 955,000 pounds of toxic pollutants in 2016.

Mr. Barber said a major tool to clean up air is the Clear Air Act, which reduced major forms of air pollution 73 percent since 1970 and prevented more than 230,000 deaths, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Allegheny County enforces the Clear Air Act locally, Mr. Barber said. As an example, in 2018, the county fined US Steel $1 million for its Clairton Coke Works air pollution.

To become involved, a petition can be found on the PennEnvironment website which asks local leaders to rein in the so-called Toxic Ten.

The Toxic Ten are the 10 worst industrial air polluters in the county.

Residents can also text "Clean Air" to 21333 for updates.

Mr. Barber also recommended calling local leaders, such as the Allegheny County Executive and the county Health Department with concerns.

 

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