Bridgeville Borough will spend $71,000 this year to use small cameras to look for cracks and fail-points in parts of the main sanitary sewer lines serving the community.
That’s money poorly spent, Mayor Pat DeBlasio told council on Monday, because the borough’s current sewer video inspection plan doesn’t factor in another major contributor to local sewer problems—the laterals that connect homes and businesses to the main lines.
The borough should revisit its sewer-scoping roadmap, DeBlasio said, to account for new camera technology that allows contractors to inspect main lines and laterals at the same time, potentially saving money and time.
“This contract would represent a waste of $71,0000 taxpayer dollars,” DeBlasio told council shortly before a vote on the matter. “I understand that we have an operations and maintenance plan for our sewer system, but that does not take into account newer camera technology that is available. It is some amazing stuff.”
Council voted 6-0 to proceed with this year’s inspections as planned. Councilman Joseph Colosimo was not present.
Aging and cracked sewer lines through the Greater Pittsburgh region allow groundwater to seep into the system, resulting in overflows that send sewage spilling into waterways. As part of a federal consent decree, Bridgeville is required to inspect its main sewer lines and repair failing sections.
But there is currently no plan to address old and cracked sewer laterals. And unlike the main lines, which are maintained by the borough, the cost of fixing laterals falls on individual property owners. Those repairs can cost $5,000 to $10,000 or more.
DeBlasio wanted council to use this year to devise a strategy, or at least establish some direction, to address that large, looming question mark.
In the meantime, the borough could spend that $71,000 budgeted for sewer inspections on other projects, the mayor said: “You have lots of work to do. You just rejected the [sewer] lining contract because you didn’t have enough money.”
Council was hesitant to deviate from the pre-planned inspection and repair schedule that the borough created in response to the federal Environment Protection Agency consent decree. Deferring inspections now might put the borough in a position where it has to conduct two or three years’ worth of sewer inspections in 2018 or beyond, said engineer Joe Sites.
A delay could also put the borough out of compliance with the maintenance schedule it created, which is audited quarterly by regulators.
“And what is the consequence of that?” DeBlasio asked.
“We don’t know and I don’t think we want to find out,” Sites said.
Some surrounding communities have addressed the sewer lateral issue by requiring property owners to inspect and repair their laterals prior to selling their property. That’s not the fastest way to fix an entire community’s system of laterals, but it does avoids suddenly dropping huge repair costs on unaware homeowners (except when they go to sell).
A second option would divide Bridgeville borough into zones and more quickly have the laterals inspected. If the borough foots the bill for inspection, that could save property owners a few hundred dollars each. But if the lateral fails inspection, how much time would homeowners have to fix those problematic pipes?
“That’s the other shoe that drops,” said borough solicitor Thomas McDermott.
Generally in this scenario, local governments would notify a homeowner that repairs must be made, set some sort of deadline to make those fixes, then decide which fines and penalties property to levy for non-compliance.
Requiring inspection at time of sale has been the more popular option in other Western Pennsylvania communities.
Some municipalities have intentionally avoided the lateral issue for now, the rationale being that if they hold off, help could come from another government entity, whether regional, state or federal.
“Delay [this vote] until you can incorporate all the information you discussed here tonight into a plan that takes into account that newer technology,” the Mayor said in a last-ditch plea to council.
Although council decided to stick with the borough’s current plan, shortly after the vote, council president Michael Tolmer asked his fellow borough officials to choose a date during the next few weeks for a special workshop meeting devoted to the sewer lateral question.
Here’s the entire 25-minute discussion, if you’d like to see everything in context: