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(Map courtesy Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County. Click to download.)
The water authority serving McKeesport will invest more than $843,000 to improve the water flow to fire hydrants in the Grandview area of the city.
The improvements --- including more than a half-mile of new water mains and eight new fire hydrants --- were approved Wednesday by the board of directors of the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County.
Matthew Junker, spokesman for the water authority, said the board is responding to concerns raised by McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko, fire Chief Jeff Tomovcsik and residents after a fire June 16 on Cleveland Street leveled one home, severely damaged at least five others and sent several people to the hospital.
"I'm very pleased that they are going to finally make the necessary improvements up there, and make sure that water flow is never a problem again in the Grandview area," Cherepko said Thursday.
"I wish it could have been done a while ago, but I'm grateful for it now," the mayor said.
Lack of water was blamed for the destructive spread of that fire, and for damage caused by other fires in the Grandview section of the city.
City officials and residents said they have complained to the water authority for years about the low water flow at hydrants in the Grandview neighborhood, although in response to a freedom of information act request, the water authority told Tube City Almanac that it had no record of any complaints.
However, according to firefighters, it has been standard practice for the past few years for Allegheny County emergency dispatchers to automatically send extra water tankers to any fires reported in the neighborhood.
In a prepared statement, Michael Kukura, resident manager of the water authority, thanked Cherepko and Tomovcsik for working with MAWC to address the issue.
The authority said it had "several cooperative meetings" with the city to discuss the project. McKeesport officials also have agreed to waive some of the street-opening fees in order to facilitate the work, expected to begin in the spring.
The work will include 3,340-feet of new 12-inch water line that will connect to a high-capacity 16-inch water main, fed by the water towers in Haler Heights.
The new line will proceed through Renziehausen Park, up Woodland Street to Grandview Avenue. The new water line will connect to existing pipes in 10 different places, "strengthening the distribution system's supply tremendously," the authority said in a release.
State environmental officials must sign off on the project before it can proceed, Junker said.
Residents will not notice many changes to their household water supplies, he said in an interview, but the system will be "more resilient" to pressure fluctuations.
It's unknown how old the existing water distribution system in the Grandview area is. Junker said some of the record-keeping from the system's very early days was not clear or complete. Although McKeesport is in Allegheny County, the Westmoreland authority took over operations of the city's system in 1987.
MAWC is not aware of any other acute problems in the fire hydrants in the city, Junker said. "Investment will continue in McKeesport," he said. "But we do have to look at things from a system-wide perspective. In fact, we recently completed almost exactly the same kind of project in Vandergrift."
Until the upgrades are complete, Cherepko said, McKeesport firefighters will continue to respond to fires in the Grandview area with additional water and personnel.
The city also will investigate whether any other underground utilities need to be replaced when MAWC begin digging up their water lines on the affected streets, he said, though whether the other lines are replaced will be up to the utility companies.
McKeesport officials were planning to pave the 2300, 2400 and 2500 blocks of Cleveland Street in 2019 anyway. The MAWC work may lead the city to extend the paving work further on Cleveland, Cherepko said.
Jason Togyer is the editor of Tube City Almanac and the volunteer executive director of Tube City Community Media Inc. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published December 14, 2018.