NORTH SHORE (KDKA) — It will be the biggest public works project in the history of the region, costing between $2 and $3 billion. The overhaul of our antiquated sewage systems may triple, even quadruple, your water and sewage bills.

But some say the federally mandated fix will also tear up our waterfronts with massive access shafts and tunnels.

KDKA investigator Andy Sheehan toured similar tunnels in another city and, on Thursday, heard from critics who don’t want them built here.

The shaft leads to 18 miles of tunnels that snake under the riverfront and streets of the Washington D.C., part of a multi-billion dollar fix of the sewer system there.

And now, to clean our rivers and streams, the federal government is demanding our own $2 to $3 billion fix with a similar network of shafts and tunnels along the riverfront of Pittsburgh, over the objections of these environmental and community leaders.

“We cannot sit by and allow this project to move forward that undercuts our vision for this community,” Jennifer Kennedy with Pittsburgh Clean Rivers said.

The activists says that kind of construction would rip up the waterfront and undo millions of dollars of investments in riverfront parks and trails, and to illustrate the point, they laid out a tarp on the North Shore to show just how big a hole just one of these access shafts would make.

“Eighteen drop shafts that are huge holes like this one, 8,000 square feet with a 3-to-5 area around that for construction,” Kennedy said. “Where are you going to put that?”

Every time it rains heavily in Pittsburgh, storm water overloads our antiquated storm and sewer systems, and raw sewage pours into our rivers and streams.

The tunnels are designed to prevent that kind of pollution by trapping the waste water, holding it in place and gradually pumping it to the sewage treatment plant down river.

The current plan calls for drilling up to 16 miles of these tunnels under and along the Pittsburgh waterfront, but folks here have different ideas.

“We must invest in green solutions,” Rev. Rodney Lyde of the Pennsylvania Interfaith Network said. “We’ve got to keep the water out of the system.”

The opponents are calling for the development of green infrastructure, like rain gardens and green roofs that soak up the rain water before it flows into the sewers.

For the past year, the mayor and the county executive have petitioned the Federal Environmental Protection Agency for more time to develop these so-called green solutions, but in a heated meeting this week, the EPA said times up and construction of the tunnels should commence.

But Kevin Acklin — the mayor’s chief of staff — said he told the feds the city and county are dug in.

“I said, ‘You’re not going to come to our city without public investment and build tunnels to tear up our riverfronts with our money to put it on the ratepayers unless we’re part of the solution here,’” Acklin said. “And if that means we have to fight that out in court, that’s where we’ll go.”

The city, county and environmentalists want as few of these shafts and tunnels as possible but the federal government has grown impatient and now the whole matter may be headed to court.

Join The Conversation On The KDKA Facebook Page
Stay Up To Date, Follow KDKA On Twitter