| Special to The Times
Five years have passed since a Times article alerted me that my water supply in Aliquippa was in big trouble. A whistleblowing board member of the Municipal Water Authority of Aliquippa (MWAA) revealed that the board chairman was siphoning off cash and maneuvering to appoint himself manager with a fat salary, despite the fact he was unqualified for the position. After attending a couple of board meetings, I learned that the situation was even worse than simple malfeasance: the MWAA was on the verge of physical and financial collapse.
The MWAA is an independent public entity chartered by the city, whose council appoints its five directors. Directors receive a $100 a month stipend. After the scandal broke, most of the old board resigned and I volunteered to join the new one. Under the leadership of chairman Matt Mottes, we got to work.
After hiring a professional engineer as a manager, we quickly began fixing our seriously dilapidated infrastructure. Between the water and sewer systems, we have spent over $13 million so far on water and sewer line breaks, replacing broken valves and water lines, renovating our water wells, and conducting extensive testing required by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP).
Over the next five years, we figure on spending over $40 million more. Our biggest project will be a new state-of-the-art water plant, replacing the worn-out facility we inherited from the old Jones & Laughlin Works. When completed around early 2023, it will permanently resolve source water quality issues. To provide the footprint for the plant, we are demolishing our crumbling old office and maintenance building, another J&L leftover. We finance all this by floating municipal bonds, which required an initial stiff rate increase to qualify.
It is a shame that this country’s most vital utilities–the providers of clean water and sanitary sewers–have been so badly neglected. That bill has now come due. I’m thankful we still have a local paper like The Times to focus attention on what has for too long been an out of sight out of mind issue.
I’m also proud to serve on a board and with a staff committed to doing right by our fellow customers. Should you have a service problem, please give the office a call at 724-375-5525. Got a question about MWAA governance? Call or text me at 412-996-2691. You are also welcome to attend our board meetings. We meet at 6 p.m. on the third Wednesday of the month.
Robert Steffes is vice chairman of the Municipal Water Authority of Aliquippa board of directors.