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Residents asked to remove trees

| Friday, Aug. 24, 2001

Port Vue officials have asked three residents along Washington Boulevard to pay for the cost of removing trees from their front yards that have roots clogging the municipality's sanitary sewer system.

Some of the residents, however, are refusing to remove their trees and are insisting that if the borough wants to improve its sewer system, it should replace the old terra cotta pipes.

Councilman William Betzner, head of the Port Vue sewer and sanitation department, said the decision to have the trees removed was not an easy one but had to be made in the interest of saving the borough money and damages from sewer backups.

'Trees are nice and trees are beautiful, and they have their place in this world,' Betzner said.

But anywhere in the borough where there are water, sewer or gas lines, he said, sometimes the trees must go to preserve the borough's infrastructure.

The three residents in the 1300 block of Washington Boulevard received letters this week informing them that they had 60 days to remove trees from their front yards.

Betzner said an investigation in May by Hydro Technical Services Inc., a Lincoln-based sewer line cleaner, found that roots from the trees had crept into the joints connecting the 4- to 5-foot segments of pipe.

'The inside of the sewer line is fine,' Betzner said, 'But everywhere there's a joint, you find roots. They are like hairline roots that are really fine, but definitely enough to block up a sewer line.'

Betzner said the pipe blockages have resulted in sewage backing up into some residents' homes, including the home of Elmer and Geraldine Sabol, one of the couples who received a letter.

The Sabol's daughter, Rose Sabol, said she and her parents refuse to remove their trees and if the borough forces them to, they are prepared to seek legal action.

'It's the borough's antiquated sewer system that isn't adequate,' Rose Sabol said. 'If (my parents' tree) roots are on the borough property, the borough can cut the roots, but nobody is cutting down their trees.'

Furthermore, she said, the cost to remove the trees is more than her parents can afford and they should not be responsible for paying the bill.

Several local tree service companies said the average cost to remove a medium-sized tree can range from $500 to $1,000, depending on size, distance from buildings or utility lines, and available road access.

Currently, root removal is the borough's only answer to the backups, and Betzner and Council President Mark Tortorice say the cost of the remedy is getting to be too expensive.

For the past two years, Port Vue has spent at least $5,000 a year to have the problem spots identified and the roots removed, according to Betzner.

Tortorice said spending $10,000 of taxpayers' money on something that can be eliminated by removal of trees is unacceptable.

'I've got better things to do (for the borough) with 10-grand, like doing something for the children,' Tortorice said.

Rose Sabol agreed that continuous cleaning of the pipes might not be the answer. She said if the terra cotta pipes are allowing so much root infiltration, they need to be replaced by modern sewer pipes made from other material such as PVC.

Kenny Metcalfe, another of the three Washington Boulevard residents, said that is the only condition under which he will willingly remove his trees.

'I will be willing to remove the trees, but not unless they are replacing the sewer line,' Metcalfe said. 'If they want to meet me half way, I'm willing to do that.'

But Betzner said that is not an option because council does not want to set what could become an expensive precedent.

'If we replace that line, we'd have to do that for everyone else in the borough. The cost would be exorbitant,' he said.

The letter sent to the residents states that if the trees are not removed by the 60-day deadline, the borough may pursue legal action against the three residents, but Betzner said he hopes it does not come to that.

He said, however, that having the residents remove their own trees is the only option Port Vue will consider for now.

George Hensler, the third Washington Boulevard resident, agreed with his neighbors, adding that he wants a legal opinion on the matter before he will comply with the order.

Joseph J. McCallister can be reached at jmccallister@tribweb.com or (412) 380-8536.

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