Community outraged by ‘significant’ wastewater bill increases

PORT VUE, Pa. — A recent wastewater rate increase has left a local Allegheny County community outraged.

“It’s criminal,” said Kelly Dean, who’s lived in Port Vue for 30 years and contacted Channel 11 on behalf of her family and her neighbors.

Residents told Channel 11 that their wastewater bills from Pennsylvania American Water have more than doubled following a “significant” increase.

Councilman and Public Works Official Bob Betters said his most-recent monthly bill was $187. His water bill, which comes from a separate company, was $60.

“It’s just a disgrace,” he said. “We pay more for sewage than we pay for any utility in our homes.”

In his role on council, Betters has heard from a number of concerned citizens.

“I’m sick over this,” he said, adding that some residents aren’t “flushing toilets until the end of the day” and are opting to go to laundromats instead of running their own washing machines.

Dean added that washing your cars or power washing your home will cost “a small fortune” with the hike.

As of last year, borough residents were paying $1.329 per 100 gallons. Now, they’re paying $2.875 per 100 gallons.

The rate hike was approved as part of a settlement with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC), after Pennsylvania American Water sought to increase its revenues.

According to a press release issued by the PUC, the settlement included “a substantially lower than requested increase in water revenues, along with a higher than requested increase in wastewater revenues.”

“It’s a significant increase, and shame on the PUC for approving it,” Dean said. “They’re a government organization that was put in place to protect citizens like us, and they failed us miserably.”

Nils Hagen-Frederiksen, PUC Press Secretary, told Channel 11 that “every rate case that comes before the PUC is the subject of intensive review, hearings and analysis before any final decision is made.  Also, in this case, the final settlement was fully supported by a list of advocates and organizations speaking on behalf of consumers, small businesses, larger commercial and industrial customers, and a number of other concerned parties.”

The settlement document, which is more than 500 pages long, can be accessed here https://www.puc.pa.gov/pcdocs/1760972.pdf.

The people of Port Vue, however, don’t feel like they were represented.

“It makes me angry,” Dean said. “We’re a borough of about 3500 people and I think we deserve better.”

Channel 11 also reached out to Pennsylvania American Water for a response.

The company has been handling the borough’s wastewater since it acquired the McKeesport Wastewater system in 2017. At that time, “local communities like Port Vue had lower rates and became part of our single tariff pricing over time,” said Pennsylvania American Water Spokesperson Gary Lobaugh.

He added,  “at the company’s request, the PUC gradually raised Port Vue’s wastewater rates over a series of company rate cases during the past six years to bring Port Vue’s rates up to conform with our zone 1 wastewater rates paid by the rest of our customers.”

Lobaugh told Channel 11 that the new rates established as part of the settlement “reflect the more than $1 billion in water and wastewater system investments the company will make through 2023 to continue providing safe and reliable service.”

When it comes to Port Vue specifically, Lobaugh said that $5 million has been invested in direct infrastructure improvements.

Betters acknowledged that claim to Channel 11, asking: “you trying to get that all back at one time?”

Lobaugh said “we understand there is never a good time to ask for a rate increase and understand the frustration associated with increasing rates.”

He said that the settlement includes “an expanded low-income discount program to continue addressing affordability. Under this expanded program, income-eligible households will receive monthly bill discounts of between 30 and 80 percent for water and wastewater service.”

But Betters fears not enough people will qualify.

He and others have contacted state and local lawmakers for help. They fear that the increased rate could force people to leave the borough, while discouraging others from moving in.

“Why would they come here to live if they know they’ve got a $200 sewage bill?” Betters asked.

Download the FREE WPXI News app for breaking news alerts.

Follow Channel 11 News on Facebook and Twitter. | Watch WPXI NOW