Bill aims to help Western Pa. homeowners deal with sewer line repairs
Diane Mikulan didn't know what to do when sewage began backing up inside and under her 100-year-old Hampton home.
The self-employed house cleaner said initial estimates for fixing the problem — broken clay pipes running from her house to the street — ranged from $5,000 to $10,000. She eventually found Terry's Plumbing of Ross to do the job for $3,100.
“That's a lot of money to me, but I had to take care of this and they did a great job. It was awful,” said Mikulan, 52. “I put it on a credit card. I'll be paying this off for years.”
State Sen. Wayne Fontana said he's heard similar stories from numerous constituents, particularly in the South Hills, which prompted him to sponsor legislation to help residents pay for costly sewer line repairs.
Officials said the problem is widespread with older homes and sewer pipes in Western Pennsylvania, especially in Pittsburgh. They could not provide exact numbers.
About 77 percent of the city's 165,421 homes were built before 1960, according to the U.S. Census.
“When you have 50-, 60-, 80-year-old homes, nothing is completely watertight because the old terra cotta sewer lines are just put together with some cement or caulking,” said Terry Mertz, owner of Terry's Plumbing.
Fontana said the bill would enable municipalities to establish funds — but provides no funding — for repairing pipes from homes to main sewer lines. If the bill passes, the next step would be to identify funding sources, which could include low-interest loans or foundation grants.
The Committee on Environmental Resources and Energy approved the bill last week, and it will come before the full Senate.
“What we're trying to do is establish a fund of some sort, if we can, to help them pay for these types of repairs,” Fontana said. “It's a starting point of a discussion. How to raise the money, that would be done on the local level.”
Older municipalities across the country are struggling with the same issue under a federal law that requires them to reduce the amount of sewage flowing into waterways during rainstorms.
The Allegheny County Sanitary Authority attributes 40 percent of excess water it treats on dry days to water infiltrating damaged sewer pipes, Fontana said. That increases to 80 percent when it rains.
Pittsburgh and communities in Allegheny County are under court order to comply with the federal rule. Many ordinances require homeowners to test the pipes, known as laterals, before they can sell their homes.
Alan Bailey, 35, of Brookline said owners have abandoned houses in his neighborhood because the cost of repairing sewer lines is greater than the home value. He said he is organizing a community group to lobby for solutions.
“Everyone is concerned about it,” he said. “This is a working-class neighborhood, and no one has $5,000 laying around to pay for sewer repairs.”
Pittsburgh City Council members said the city cannot afford to subsidize the repairs.
“This is an inherited problem for all of us,” said Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak of Carrick, who represents South Hills neighborhoods. “I think the bill is a good thing, but I guess we all question where is the money coming from.”
State Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, suggested it might be better to implement a sewer line insurance program rather than have governments pay for private sewer line repair.
The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority required customers to pay $5 monthly for line insurance before ending the controversial program in 2010. An Allegheny County Judge later ruled the program was illegal.
“It was a great idea. The problem is the way they handled it,” Ferlo said. “I think a lot of private property owners would do that rather than paying out $6,000 or $7,000 or even $10,000.”
Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- PennDOT says inbound Fort Pitt Tunnel will close around-the-clock this weekend
- Uber gains PUC approval to operate in most of Pa. for 2 years
- Wintry mix of rain, freezing rain and snow bearing down on Pittsburgh area
- Psychiatrist: Man accused of setting Homestead fire not competent to stand trial
- Woman, 77, dies in Monroeville house fire
- 2 arrested in Wilkinsburg shooting
- Pa. police departments worry order on criminal seizures hurts bottom line
- Propel school sends students home because of phone threat
- Pipelines key to growth in shale industry
- Police stop car in Beltzhoover, find body in back seat
- Federal grand jury indicts man for violating poultry law while operating illegal slaughterhouse in his Jefferson Hills home