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Baldwin Borough officials plan to start with 'easy' sewer projects

| Wednesday, May 1, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

George and Denise Sites joked about putting a “For Sale” sign in front of their house as they left the Baldwin Borough municipal building Monday.

An addition built in the 1970s to the Young Drive home the couple has owned for 30 years was built on top of a manhole.

While it has yet to cause problems at the home, vacating the manhole and adding others in the area around the Sites' home is one of several complicated sewer-repair projects that Baldwin Borough officials are tackling in an effort to meet federal mandates.

“We just don't want a manhole underneath someone's family-room floor. That's just a bad situation,” Baldwin Borough engineer Larry Souleret said.

Borough officials met Monday to review options for how to repair the “deep-dig,” or more-complicated sewer issues in the Streets Run Watershed region.

Repairs were divided into “easy-fix” projects that will move forward with advertising for bids at the end of this month and 16 more-complex problems that will require more detailed planning and likely not have a resolution until this fall at the earliest, Souleret said.

Alcosan and its contributory communities are under a consent decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, state Department of Environmental Protection and county health department to achieve compliance with the Clean Water Act during periods of wet weather.

As part of the consent decree, the borough is required to monitor its sewer lines by running cameras through the pipes, borough manager John Barrett said. A review of video taken from sewage lines in Baldwin, which is a part of the Streets Run and Lick Run watersheds, showed numerous places with cracks and damage to the pipes, where spot repairs are needed, he said.

“There are some unique situations with some of these projects,” Barrett said.

At the damaged sites, it is unknown how much clay sewage pipe needs to be repaired because the camera can't go past the breaking point, Souleret said.

“It could be a couple hundred feet, it could be 20 feet. We don't know,” Souleret said.

In some places, such as on part of Leona Drive, the repairs that are needed are “literally at the edge of a hill,” he said.

The worry is that digging 26 feet deep near the crest of the hill could cause the land to slide, engineers explained.

“Once you go over 15, 16 feet, it's a big deal. You've got to worry about this house” when digging in a backyard or near a foundation, engineer Ned Mitrovich said.

A large wall could be added to help secure the area.

The project also could require the borough to enter homes to rework sewer lines, Souleret said.

“There's too many unknowns. It's not fair to the community,” Councilman John “Butch” Ferris said.

Another option is to add a grinder pump, a waste-management device that stores and pumps water from a home into the sewage line, in the rear yards of the homes along the lower end of Leona, Baldwin officials said. While this option is cheaper to start, there typically are maintenance and repair costs that go along with the pumps, Souleret said.

“Grinder pumps go bad, and they always go bad on Christmas Day or a rainy day,” Souleret said.

Long power outages also require backup generators for the grinder pumps, or else residents cannot flush their toilets, engineers said.

Engineers also discussed ways to solve the problem through “pipe bursters,” which would “blow up” the smashed pipes in the areas where they are crushed. The problem with this option is that it might destabilize the hillside, Mitrovich said. “Until it's drilled and there's some geotechnical data, there's a lot of risk with this,” he said.

The project — no matter what route Baldwin officials choose to take — also will affect homes in Whitehall, as the sewage from homes in Whitehall on Leona flow into Baldwin's lines, officials said.

“They have a problem with their system, too,” Souleret said.

Baldwin officials agreed to talk with Whitehall engineers to discuss the project.

These projects also will cause disruption to resident yards.

But, as in the case of the manhole under the Sites' home, they need to be fixed.

If that sewer line were to plug, the manhole lid likely would blow off straight through the floor or walls of the house, borough officials said.

“Now you have me scared to go home. I'm going to be sitting up on Elmwood when I'm watching TV some night,” Denise Sites said.

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or

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