Kelly Deegan looks out her kitchen window every morning at the big hole that once was her backyard.
She checks to see if the plastic sewage pipes lining the steep slope are connected. If not, her husband needs to head into what the couple calls “the pit” to re-connect the pipes before they can shower or flush the toilet.
This is daily life for the Arbor Lane couple in Pleasant Hills, whose yard, according to an engineering report issued on the borough’s behalf in September 2018, gave way to a landslide due to heavy rains in early 2018. The report, created with the goal of determining what caused the slide, was completed by Garvin Boward Beitko Engineering, Inc.
A sanitary sewer line underneath the couple’s yard broke. Borough reports say it was due to the landslide. However, Deegan still questions what came first: Did the yard give way causing the line to collapse, or did the line collapse, causing the yard to give way?
The landslide occurred more than a year ago,and she still doesn’t have all the answers.
“It’s been frustrating. It’s cruel. It’s overwhelming,” said Deegan, 57, who has lived in her home with her husband Patrick since 1996.
Borough leaders say a project to connect five homes on Arbor Lane affected by the slide to a different sanitary line up the hill should be completed soon. The grinder pumps installed at each home to push the sewage uphill should be up and running the week of March 25, engineer Jason Stanton told council members on March 18. The borough has vacated the line that collapsed under the yards.
“The borough has been very sympathetic to what’s happened to these residents,” borough solicitor Fred Jug said. “As soon as there was a report of that landslide, the borough responded to that.”
It did take time to get a firm in place to conduct a causation report, Jug said, as a high rate of landslides across the Pittsburgh region have kept companies busy.
Deegan admits her backyard wasn’t anything fancy. But, about 15 years ago, her husband added a wooden deck off the first level of their home, where they would spend many days and evenings relaxing and grilling.
The couple knew their yard was built over a sewer line. They would see workers going to check on it from time to time. However, it never was a problem.
Toward the end of the summer in 2017, the Deegans started noticing something wasn’t right in their yard. It was starting to drop on one side.
In February 2018, things started to get much worse.
“I’d be washing dishes and I’d be going, ‘Am I cockeyed?’” Deegan said. “It was just going down.”
The yard began to split apart and kept dropping. Deegan thought the mine under their home might be collapsing. She called their mine subsidence insurance provider, the Department of Environmental Protection and the borough.
Borough crews sent a camera down the sanitary sewer line and found it to be cracked, Deegan said.
The borough engineering report indicates the line had been inspected in January 2018 and revealed no sign of a malfunction. “The sanitary sewer line is now broken, based on camera inspections of the line performed after the landslide occurred,” the report states.
Deegan said there never were any signs the sewer line wasn’t working, even after it broke. The couple’s insurance company said because the damage was caused by a landslide, repairs are not covered. However, representatives recommended removing the deck from the backyard.
The Deegans took down their wooden deck. Its remnants sit on their front porch, and door off their dining room now goes nowhere.
Homes below on Temona Drive felt the effects of the slide. Deegan jokes that her yard is now on Temona. Several homeowners told the engineering firm conducting the report on behalf of the borough that they’ve spent a couple thousand dollars clearing trees from their yard, have had flooding in their basements and one resident said a retaining wall in her backyard fell due to the slide.
The entire situation has not been pleasant, Deegan said.
Wanting to stay organized and up-to-date on any progress, Deegan attended borough council meetings and kept a detailed list of every step of the process. It includes:
• The borough doing core drilling to determine what happened to the land for the causation report.
• The Deegans using a Port-A-John in their garage for a month because they were still connected to a broken line and feared sewage was getting into the ground.
• The borough linking their sewage lines to a main line over the hill. Piping then ran down the center of their backyard to connect them to that line.
• The borough, after considering several options, ultimately opting to abandon the broken sewage line and instead install grinder pumps to pump the sewage of several affected homes up the hill to another sewer line.
The borough is responsible for providing sanitary sewer service. However, both Jug and Stanton point to the causation report to prove all the issues were caused by the landslide.
“We’ve got to provide sanitary sewer lines for our residents,” council vice president Bob Karcher said.
As for the landslide: “It’s private property — there’s nothing we can do,” he said.
Next comes fixing the backyard, a project the Deegans will have to fund. The deck now will have to be off the lower level, above the gaping cascading hillside that now is their backyard.
“Next time, we might have a moat, I don’t know?” Deegan joked.
The most frustrating part, Deegan said, has been the lack of care and haste she has felt from the borough. It’s been more than a year since this all began, and still things are not fully resolved.
“The only good thing the borough was honest about is they’re government and they take a long time. They were upfront about that,” she said. “They just sat on it and sat on it.”