As the co-director of the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority said Saturday, there may not be "any system that can handle 2 inches of rain in 37 minutes." But questions about the agency's handling of the city's sewer infrastructure are bound to come up when you consider its questionable management of other matters, including its finances -- and indeed, they are coming up, and they are angry.
Required reading here by 3MurkyRivers, which notes that a bad bond deal forced the agency to put off infrastructure improvements two years ago, that it forgave loads of debt from Iron City just to see the brewery leave, that it pushed a line insurance program later stopped by a lawsuit, leading its last director (who had ties to the insurance vendor) to resign. The post ends with this line: "Ughhh, when you lay it all out like that it looks pretty disgusting."
The flash flooding in Highland Park did not surprise some public officials (such as those working in Pittsburgh council member Patrick Dowd's office, who have been monitoring the situation for some time) and should have surprised no one. That stretch of road has flooded several times in recent months, dismissing any thought that the recent deaths may be attributed to a freakish, unpredictable act of nature. These catastrophes have been caused by the acts and omissions of people, primarily public officials and developers.
It can't be too difficult to close a street. They seem to be able to do it whenever a VIP or a corporation wants it closed, regardless of the impact. Ensuring public safety by closing the street when it rains would call attention to their shortcomings and priorities, so instead they leave the people to take their chances. It's a reverse lottery, run by the government. Turns out you can gamble on both sides of the river. Oops, you won - sucks to be you.
The city knows that flooding is likely at that location in heavy rain, the decision makers haven't taken any action to improve the situation, and so the constraints of budgets and political desire abandon people in favor of higher priorities.
Background from Null Space -- more than a week ago -- on the PWSA's bond deal, and how much of it actually went into improving the sewer system:
I personally would love to have someone go in and audit this PWSA bond (the same bond which was caused everyone such fits) to see what part of it actually finally made it to expenditures on actual infrastructure and to quantify just how much went to unanticipated financial costs, fees and and legal work that all ballooned. It won't be a small number. Worth it for posterity’s sake for when you know someone tries some similar scheme in the future. Won’t look the same of course, but someone will think they have a great idea for something that really is not any better a deal than that bond seemed at the time.
Cartoon: Rob Rogers/PG