July 20, 2001

There is "no intention to pursue legal recourse" against property owners who have illicit connections with the sanitary sewer system, County Councilman Robert Weiner told the first of a series of civic meetings called to explain the extensive sewer renovation project getting underway in Brandywine Hundred.

Weiner said that County Executive Thomas Gordon has sassured him that the administration wants to "rely on an education program" to secure compliance with regulations intended to keep the sanitary and storm sewers separate. "We think that people will want to voluntarily remedy illegal hookups," Weiner said. "Going after them in court wouldn't be a very popular thing to do."

The long-standing practice of connecting downspouts, sump pumps and so-called French drains to the sanitary sewers has been identified as a significant element in overtaxing the system. County officials have said there is no way at this point of telling how extensive the situation is but that there are clear indications there are a considerable number of such connections.

It is planned as part of the effort to locate damaged pipes to pump telltale smoke into the sewer lines. It not only would leak through ruptures in the pipes but also smoke out unauthorized connections.

While property owners are responsible for such situations, many of the connections -- particularly the older ones -- were made by former owners or even builders. It apparently was common practice early on in the suburban building boom to connect gutters to the sanitary sewers.

Project Ted DeBoda said the smoke also will pinpoint internal plumbing problems by emerging inside buildings. It will, then, be advantageous for the owners to correct those situations, he said.

Preston Lee, a consulting engineer on the project, told attenders at the July 19 meeting that some sanitary sewers in Brandywine Hundred are carrying volumes two to three times greater than the amount of water being supplied to the area. If the system were totally tight, the amounts would be equal. The county's sewer tax is based on water consumption.

Not all of that, he and project manager Ted DeBoda said, is attributable to illegal connections. The biggest contributor is stormwater which flows into the system through numerous gaps in the 40- to 50-year-old terra cotta pipes.

To that end, DeBoda said, the most concerted immediate effort will be to replace manhole covers with fewer openings and install virtually watertight mounts for them. There are 38,000 manholes in the country's 1,500 mile system.

At the meeting, an unusual joint gathering of the Council of Civic Organizations of Brandywine Hundred, Claymont Coalition and Fox Point Association, officials gave a general overview of the project. Countywide, it will cost in the range of $250 million and take about six years to complete. As previously reported by Delaforum, some $7 million has been earmarked to finance work in an 'L'-shaped area of Brandywine Hundred territory drained by sewer lines along the Delaware River between Edgemoor and Claymont and west along Naamans Creek to roughly Shipley Road.

DeBoda said the work will start on the western side of that territory -- probably in Dartmouth Woods and proceed south toward the Folk and Murphy Roads area. That has been identified as the area with the highest ratio of sewage compared to water consumption.

He said he was unable to give a timetable because "we don't know the extent of the problems until we see what we find" when the sewer lines are inspected. He said the process is to follow the lines, using remote-controlled cameras, until the sources of problems are located. To the extent possible they will be fixed remotely, thereby minimizing the amount of digging required. Most of the digging that will occur, he said, will be to reconnect the individual lines which connect houses and other buildings to the collector sewers.

"We will do as little [digging] as possible," he said, promising that areas which are dug up will be restored when the work is completed.

He also said property owners will be notified well in advance of inspections involving the non-toxic smoke. There also will be meetings set up with various civic associations to provide specifics of what will happen in each local area.

He said the guiding principle behind the project is to make repairs as it progresses. "We don't want to treat it as a study; we will fix the problems as soon as we find them," he said.

© 2001. All rights reserved.

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