The Clean Rivers Campaign announced Monday it is filing a legal challenge to ALCOSAN’s denial of an open records request.
In May, the group requested any and all documents related to the scope of the work being done on ALCOSAN’s study of green infrastructure. That request was denied by ALCOSAN.
“The public has a right to know how our money is being spent,” said Clean Rivers Campaign Director Jennifer Rafanan Kennedy. “ALCOSAN has shared their scope of work and plans relating to green infrastructure with some stakeholders, but the public and many of the region’s leading green infrastructure experts have been shut out of the process.”
The work in question came about after ALCOSAN released a sweeping plan aimed at preventing sewage overflows into rivers during wet weather. The initial plan was made up of only so-called gray infrastructure — most notably large concrete storage tunnels under the rivers.
After a public comment period, the agency decided to go back and study what green components they could incorporate. They have asked the federal Environmental Protection Agency for an extension so they can do that study. Since that time, the groups requesting information said they haven’t been included in any of ALCOSAN’s planning and add that the public has no idea what the agency is planning.
“We think it’s really unfortunate that they’re taking this stance instead of being open and transparent,” said Brenda Smith, executive director of the Nine Mile Run Watershed Association. “Ratepayers are paying for all of this so we don’t understand what the secrecy is about. It just doesn’t make sense to us.”
In a letter, ALCOSAN said the documents in question are not subject to open records law because the scope of work referenced in the request is not finalized.
“The bottom line is that they are asking for a document that is not completed yet. It is that simple,” said ALCOSAN spokeswoman Nancy Barylak. “And we have told them repeatedly that they will be involved and they will give comment on it as we develop the document.”
Clean Rivers Campaign takes issue with that.
“They claim ‘these are pre-deliberations, there’s an ongoing investigation’ so they don’t have to do it,” said Clean Rivers attorney Mike Healey. “Respectfully, we think they’re wrong. We’ll be filing an open records request this week making a number of requests, and we anticipate a favorable response.”
The groups requesting the documents said they want to see the scope of work and added they have not been part of the development, which is part of what has them concerned.
Smith said the ratepayers should have a voice in designing what the plan is going to be, or at least understanding how the study is put together.
“We want to understand how the study is being put together because how you do your study often determines what kind of result you will get,” she said. “We want to make sure this is a study that will really help us understand what kind of control we could get from green solutions. If you design your study to prove why we can’t do it here, then the results you will get will prove that you can’t do it here.”
ALCOSAN’s Barylak said the groups will get a chance to chime in, as will the public.
“Once this is close to being finalized, but not being finalized, we will certainly work with them and get their input,” she said, “but we’re not at that stage in development yet.”
A group of protesters from the groups and the public gathered in front of the state office building in Downtown Pittsburgh Monday to call for more transparency. The Clean Rivers Campaign is appealing the document disclosure denial with the state’s Open Records Office this week.