Our noses are telling us that something doesn’t smell right in Sewickley.

A fine June drizzle was misting up from Chadwick Street when the Gazette stopped by the Sewickley Wastewater Treatment plant. No one answered the buzzer; a friendly UPS driver nearby said the place closes at 3 pm.

Closing time is 2:00 PM, in fact, when the lone borough employee at the plant goes home after an eight hour shift. His supervisor resigned, and hasn’t yet been replaced.

The Sewickley community pool, directly next to the sewage treatment plant, was closed due to the rain. The entire area was suffused with a slightly nasty aroma.

Sewickley Borough Council Members have recently voted to pay for an Act 537 Sewage Facilities Program; if implemented, Sewickley will send its wastewater to Leetsdale. (Act 537 – The Pennsylvania Sewage Facilities Act – empowers the Department of Environmental Protection “to address existing sewage disposal needs, and to help prevent future problems through the proper planning, permitting, and design of all types of sewage facilities.”)

Sewickley Borough engineers Lennon Smith Souleret (LSS) offered to write the borough’s 537 Plan for $110,000. Leetsdale’s engineering firm, Slagle and Nichols, offered to do the same work for $35,000. The Slagle and Nichols plan, which we understand recommends that Sewickley ship its wastewater to Leetsdale for treatment, is now being reviewed by all ten boroughs and townships that need to sign off on the Plan – including Sewickley, Edgeworth, Glenn Osborne, Aleppo, Haysville, and others. (It should be noted that Lennon Smith and Souleret are also engineers for the Borough of Edgeworth.)

A source who has reviewed the current Act 537 plan says it is not fundamentally different from the plan Leetsdale’s Sewer Authority proposed nearly ten years ago. According to former Sewickley Council Member Delvin Miller, several Sewickley council members at that time visited the Leetsdale facility, and came back with a report: Leetsdale is not ready to go forward with this.

John Krauk, who was head of Leetsdale’s Sewer Authority at the time, disputes this. He and other Authority members made several presentations to Sewickley Borough Council, and formally offered a $50,000 engineering study free to Sewickley, to substantiate Leetsdale’s readiness to tie in Sewickley’s wastewater. Mr. Krauk points out that the Borough of Edgeworth, which ties into the Leetsdale plant at a site 150 yards from Sewickley’s Chadwick Street plant, has been a Leetsdale Sewer Authority customer for many years.

Nonetheless, Borough Manager Kevin Flannery and then – borough Engineering firm KLH argued that it would be prohibitively expensive to build the pipe to transfer the wastewater and that Leetsdale’s facility wasn’t ready.

The amount to upgrade Sewickley’s Chadwick Street plant? $3.5 million.

Borough Council voted unanimously to improve Sewickley’s plant.

For reasons not yet clear, that $3.5 million expense ballooned; the bond stands at just under $10 million.

Now, whether or not the current council votes in favor of the Act 537 plan, Sewickley residents will continue to pay off the bond that was raised nearly a decade ago to refurbish the Chadwick Street plant. They will continue to pay off this bond every month until 2030.

What happens if Sewickley doesn’t go forward with the Act 537 plan?

According to LSS: the alternative is the Borough would need to spend more than $5 million to bring the existing plant into compliance. In this scenario, LSS would earn approximately 20% of that $5 million.

What’s wrong with the existing plant, besides the noxious smell that affects neighbors from the Community Pool to the Linden Place apartments.

A lot.

This is the first of a series of articles about Sewickley’s wastewater treatment plant. Next we’ll explore: did the $10 million dollar bond give us? Why do we need to spending additional $5+ million to keep the plant in compliance? And – are we courting disaster? Nine years ago, a young man died in an incident at the Chadwick Street Plant that many sources believe was preventable. Are the same issues and lack of oversight in place?