Sanitary vs. storm: Many older homes have ‘illegal’ sewer hookups

Miranda L. Pennock 09/14/10More articles
Members of the Bayberry Community Association gathered Sept. 12 to air their concerns about a proposed sewer law.

The law in question would require all homes within Onondaga County to be inspected in the next 10 years to determine if the storm and sanitary sewers are properly connected with storm runoffs draining to the storm sewer and all other outlets running into the sanitary sewer system. While the law, which is up for vote on Oct. 7 at the Onondaga County Legislature meeting, will require the county to pay for inspections, any improvements to homes to bring them up to code would fall on the homeowners’ shoulders.

Legislator John Dougherty (R-Clay) held an open forum for Bayberry residents because he believes the new law, which will replace defunct legislation currently on the books, will impact many of the residents in his district.

“Every time we have a storm, the sanitary sewer has six times the normal flow,” Dougherty said.

The excess water is primarily due to homes built with storm drain systems that empty into the sanitary sewer. In 1978, building codes changed and houses were no longer allowed to be built that way, thereby making it “illegal” to hook storm drains to the sanitation system.

“Virtually every home in Bayberry was built that way,” Dougherty said.

All the homes built with systems flowing into the sanitary system were legal when built, but when the law was passed it inadvertently made each of those home illegally connected.

“The county is trying to fix the problem,” Dougherty said. “The plan is to have every home checked to make sure downspouts are hooked to storm sewers.”

Each time there is a significant storm, the sewer becomes flooded with rainwater from runoffs and sump pumps connected to the sanitation system, which sends clean water through the sewage treatment plant, something Dougherty said was “stupid” to have happen.

“It’s also stupid to have to pay $8,000 to have your front yard dug up to rehook,” he said. “As it stands right now I’m going to vote against [the law].”

Instead of an outright “no,” Dougherty has been working with several county employees to come up with a solution so residents don’t have to fork over thousands of dollars in major construction bills.

One solution is to have residents disconnect and run downspouts and sump pumps into their yards rather than the sewer. However, if homes are built with footer drains connected to the sanitary sewer, the solution becomes as murky as the sewer sludge.

“Basement footer drains ... if those have to get changed we’re talking major construction,” he said. “If we can stop at roof drains and sump pumps, we solve 90 percent of the problem at 1 percent of the cost.”

According to Onondaga County Deputy Executive William Fisher, second in command to county Executive Joanie Mahoney, when storm waters fill the sanitary sewers, pump stations cannot work efficiently and fill quickly causing any overflow to go into Onondaga Creek. This overflow is partially the reason Onondaga Lake is in the state it is in.

The sewer law is being revised parallel to the Onondaga Lake clean up efforts, both of which are the result of an amendment consent judgment, Fisher said.

One resident, Fred Elkins, who identified himself as an engineer, said C&S Companies performed three different studies on the sewers — 1964, 1974 and 2006 — and each time concluded a need to separate the hookups. Citing financial problems for residents, as many are on fixed incomes, he said the requirements within the law are totally unrealistic.

“Nothing is illegal about what we’ve done. To impose this on us is wrong,” Elkins said, adding where sump pumps are concerned, “most of Bayberry is cul de sacs and all we’d end up with is a flooding problem.”

Dougherty said he has made a presentation to the other legislators, and while a lot of them agree with his points, he’s not sure he has enough vote to overturn the law being passed in October and believes there is a high probability it will pass.

“What I really want to do is change this law,” he said.

Dougherty will be hosting a second community meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday Sept. 23 at Clay Town Hall on Route 31 in Clay.

CATEGORY: Government
TAGS: Onondaga County, legistlature, law, sewer, sanitary, storm
EDITION: Star-Review

Rating: 2.5/5 (17 votes cast)

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