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Residents, Leaders Sound Off on Rate Increase

PUC considering increase to water, sewerage rates

By T.J. Martin
The Tube City Almanac
February 01, 2024
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

Pennsylvania American Water Company acquired the assets of the Municipal Authority of the City of McKeesport in 2017. The company is proposing a rate increase for both sewer customers served by the McKeesport treatment plant as well as water customers in Liberty and West Mifflin. (Tube City Almanac photo illustration)

Residents in the Mon Valley took the opportunity to speak to representatives of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission this week at the first pair of public input hearings regarding a rate increase request by Pennsylvania American Water Company.

At a public hearing at the Port Vue municipal building, state Rep. Matthew Gergely of McKeesport called proposed rate increases to water and sewerage rates “extreme and unprecedented.”

About 50 people attended the hearing. Port Vue Councilman Bob Betters said he was also opposed to the proposed increase. Noting that PAWC said that it wants to make “infrastructure upgrades” as one of the reasons for a rate increase, Betters said, “You bought this junk car, you should have to fix it — not us.”

In 2017, PAWC purchased the assets of the Municipal Authority of the City of McKeesport and began providing sewage services to at that time 64,000 people in McKeesport, Duquesne, Dravosburg, White Oak, North Versailles, East McKeesport, Elizabeth, Glassport, Liberty, Port Vue and Versailles.

The company had already been providing water to residents in Liberty Borough and West Mifflin. McKeesport, Port Vue and White Oak get water service from Municipal Authority of Allegheny County.

In a press release, PAWC said the rate adjustment request reflects “$1 billion in water and wastewater system investments to be made through mid-2025 to continue providing safe and reliable service.”

A separate release said the request “includes approximately $185 million in infrastructure upgrades here in western Pennsylvania.”

For wastewater customers in the Mon Valley, the average monthly bill will increase by approximately $4 per month if the request is approved, according to PAWC. The PUC said under PAWC’s request, if approved, monthly water bills would increase from 20.1 percent to 63 percent, depending on which PAWC rate zone in the state the customer lives in.

The Port Vue hearings were the first two of eight planned public input hearings. Comments can also be made on the PUC’s website.

Administrative Law Judge Emily DeVoe presided over the hearings and said they would help the PUC decide if the rate increase request is “just and reasonable.”

PAWC did get support during the afternoon hearing. Three members of area chambers of commerce, all of whom testified that they were speaking on behalf of themselves and not of those chambers, said they supported the proposed increases to allow PAWC to make infrastructure upgrades.

During the evening hearing, state Rep. Nick Pisciottano of West Mifflin testified that he also opposes the proposed increase and asked the PUC to remember that PAWC’s customers have no alternative choice for service.

A certified public accountant, Pisciottano said he believes the costs of any upgrades should be amortized, that is, spread over the expected life of the upgrade, not charged entirely to current customers.

One of the more than a dozen attendees to testify at the evening hearing agreed. The man, who like most of those who spoke at the evening hearing was from Port Vue, said, “I’m 65 and I’m going to live 30 more years. Give me 30 years to pay this bill, not today.”

The PUC is expected to rule on the rate increase request in August.

Currently, PAWC serves 681,707 water and 97,585 wastewater customers in 37 counties and is the largest regulated water and wastewater service provider in Pennsylvania, according to the PUC. PAWC is a subsidiary of American Water, the largest regulated water and wastewater utility company in the United States. It serves more than 14 million people in 14 states and on 18 military installations.

Additional hearings will be held:

    Monday, Feb. 5, 2024 — Telephone
    Hearing #1 will begin at 1 p.m.
    Hearing #2 will begin at 6 p.m.

    Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024 – Harrisburg
    Hearing Room 1, Second Floor, Keystone Building
    400 North St., Harrisburg, PA 17120

    Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024 — Telephone
    Hearing #1 will begin at 1 p.m.
    Hearing #2 will begin at 6 p.m.

To pre-register for either in-person or telephonic public input hearings, call 1-800-684-6560 or email at consumer@paoca.org and provide the following:

• Your first and last name
• The date and time of the public input hearing
• A phone number where you can be reached prior to the hearing
• Your email address (if you have one)
• If you require an interpreter to participate in the hearing, the language of the interpreter

T.J. Martin is a freelance writer from Trafford whose work has also appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Irwin Standard Observer.

Originally published February 01, 2024.

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