Also: If you do not have a will and other end-of-life documents, this clinic can help you
By Juliet Martinez
The Oct. 10 hybrid community meeting was well attended with close to 50 people present. After a few technical glitches at the beginning, the participants made adjustments and went on to have a lively meeting.
They learned about free legal services for low-income people, changes to the plan for a grocery store on the 4800 block of Second Avenue, and the water and sewer rate hikes we all may face over the next three years.
Water and sewer rates may rise
Anne Quinn, founder of the Mon Water Project, explained that PWSA has proposed rate hikes over the next three years. These will significantly increase our water and sewer bills. Part of the rate increases stem from capital improvement projects, and another part is due to new and old regulations being enforced.
Ms. Quinn explained how water from the Allegheny River is treated at the Waterworks facility to become safe enough to drink. The higher price of drinking water stems from new regulations on PFAS, a family of compounds also known as “forever chemicals,” which will significantly change the treatment process. Rate hikes will also cover the cost to replace lead pipes and laterals throughout the system.
As for the rising wastewater rates, a complex system of pipes carries sewage from our homes to the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority - ALCOSAN - for processing. Ms. Quinn said too often, raw sewage discharges into the Monongahela River during rainfalls. Even light rain overwhelms the sewer system. The wastewater regulations driving rate changes date back to the 1970s, but Clean Water Act enforcement has only just reached Pittsburgh. Now PWSA is required, in partnership with ALCOSAN, to move forward with upgrades that will limit sewage flows into rivers.
She clarified that some underground pipes are owned by ALCOSAN, others by PWSA, but property owners are responsible for the pipes that run from inside homes to the sidewalk connection point. ALCOSAN and PWSA are both planning expensive infrastructure projects that customers will have to pay for.
Ms. Quinn emphasized the need for public awareness and involvement in the decision-making process around these rate adjustments, inviting meeting participants to contact her and get involved.
She highlighted the need for a team to potentially advocate for an additional hearing to voice their opinions on the rate hikes.
To get involved in advocating for better water policy, email Ms. Quinn at email@example.com. See Page 1 for more information on PWSA rate increases.
Low-income legal services
Third-year law students from Duquesne University’s free legal clinic presented information on planning ahead for illness and the end of life. They highlighted the services they provide, including help with wills and power of attorney documents for both finances and healthcare.
The students emphasized the need for clear instructions about your wishes if you are incapacitated. They explained that advanced healthcare directives and living wills lay out what you want if you are badly injured, terminally ill or on life support, for example. They stressed the importance of having documents in place that say who will make decisions for you; this can help avoid court-ordered guardianship.
They explained that a hand-written and signed will detailing how you want your property distributed after death is considered valid in Pennsylvania. But it is less likely to hold up in court than a “self-proving will” signed by two witnesses and notarized.
Meeting participants asked about the enforceability of end-of-life documents such as wills and healthcare power of attorney. The students advised that if someone is having trouble with enforcement of these documents, they could contact Disability Rights Pennsylvania (www.disabilityrightspa.org), or hire a private attorney.
The legal clinic helps low-income people create end-of-life documents. They are not just for the elderly; anyone over 18 should have a will, especially if they have children. They encouraged interested parties to email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 412-396-4704.
Grocery store project redesign
The co-op grocery store development project spearheaded by Hazelwood-based advocacy group People of Origin Rightfully Loved and Wanted, known by its acronym POORLAW, gave an update on the design of the building. The project is named for the late neighborhood activist Sarah Dixon and is planned for the 4800 block of Second Avenue. The projected cost is $23 million.
Architect Scott Gerke presented the redesigned layout for their project, which starts with a ground-level, covered parking lot with space for 55 vehicles, a climate-controlled transit waiting area and an elevator that serves all floors. The second floor will house the 15,000-square-foot grocery store, a credit union and wellness center. A 20,000-square-foot urban farm and greenhouse will be located on the third level, including an aquaponic system for farming fish and growing fresh produce.
Kevin McPhillips, executive director and chief executive officer of the Pennsylvania Center for Employee Ownership said the grocery store will be a worker cooperative. This means the workers will each own part of the business and have a say in how it is run. The project’s success and growth will depend on community support, he said.
The project’s next steps include creating construction drawings and seeking funding. Pastor Lutual Love, one of the project team leads along with POORLAW founder Saundra Cole-McKamey, explained the proposed funding plan for the construction which includes donations, tax credits, funding from state and federal programs and local foundations.
New Zone 4 commander
Stephen Vinansky, the new commander for Zone 4, addressed the meeting and expressed his commitment to work with the community and learn about their concerns. He discussed crime statistics in the past 30 days and acknowledged the challenge of covering a large area with fewer officers. He plans to have officers stationed in different parts of the neighborhoods.
“We want to earn your trust. We want to earn your respect. We want to work with you. If you see problems in a community, things that we need to focus our attention on, please let us know,” he said.
Hazelwood Initiative updates
Hazelwood Initiative executive director Sonya Tilghman gave an update on the progress of converting Gladstone School into affordable housing. She reported a delay in the building’s completion due to a nationwide shortage of critical electrical parts, resulting in an adjustment of the timeline. An interest list for prospective tenants will open towards the end of this year.
Hazelwood Initiative senior real estate director Dave Brewton announced a new project involving Kjerstin Pugh, a community resident, artist and founder of Offroute Art, a nonprofit organization supporting emerging young adult artists from ages 16 to 24. Hazelwood Initiative will be applying for an Avenues of Hope grant from the Urban Redevelopment Authority to renovate the former O’Brien Hall building (5422 Second Ave.) to house Offroute Art. For now, you can see or purchase some of the artists’ work at Hazelwood Café. The youth receive 100% of the proceeds from the sales of their art.
Outreach and sustainability director Tiffany Taulton urged community members to weigh in on the plan to reconnect Hazelwood to Swissvale and Rankin through a feasibility study conducted by the Friends of the Riverfront, who will present more about it at the Nov. 14 community meeting. She invited everyone to join a tree planting event with The Mission Continues at 10 a.m. on Veterans Day, Saturday, Nov. 11 at the corner of Cortland and Lytle streets.
James Bernard from the rowing team based in Hazelwood Green updated the group on a litter cleanup project around their boathouse near the banks of the Monongahela River. He said the team is interested in more engagement with the community, and Ms. Taulton invited him to let her know when future trash cleanups are planned so she can publicize them.