Southeastern PA

Failing sewer lines causing major headaches for Quakertown residents

QUAKERTOWN, Pa. - Crumbling sewer laterals over a stretch of six blocks in Quakertown, along West Broad Street, are causing an inconvenience and financial burden to many residents who have been asked to help deal with the problem.

Quakertown officials have sent letters to the affected houses on the 600-1200 blocks, urging residents to replace the aging clay pipes within 100 days or face a certain financial penalty.

The issue was discussed during the packed borough council meeting on Wednesday night, which was attended by the concerned residents, who came out to seek answers to a problem that caught many off guard.

Before taking any questions, borough manager Scott McElree, explained the background of the problem and how the officials plan to deal with it.

He explained that after a recent examination of 55 laterals along that stretch of West Broad Street, officials from the borough’s Wastewater Department found 42 of them to be cracked or have plant roots growing into them. Those pipes were made of clay, dating back to 1925.  As the results, excessive stormwater is entering these cracks and is threatening to overflow the borough’s sewer system.  In all, 37 households are affected by the problem.

“These clay pipes are the ones that are going to have the most problems and they’re going to give you, what we consider to be a catastrophic failure,” McElree said.

A sewer lateral line is a privately-owned pipeline connecting a property to the publicly-owned main sewer line. According to the borough ordinance, it is the responsibility of the property owner to maintain and repair the lateral.

According to the officials, most laterals throughout the borough are connected to the main sewer at a curb line and those sewer lines then connect to the two main interceptors that lead directly into the borough’s sewer treatment facility. In this case, the laterals found beneath the 37 units are directly connected to the interceptors, posing a greater threat of overflowing and contamination of sewer lines during heavy rain periods.

McElree said the borough became aware of the problem after the state’s Department of Environmental Protection had done its own inspection to replace an aging interceptor line.

“There are three parcels locked in the middle with the laterals all tied together, woven under garages and driveways, said Doug Wilhelm, borough inspector. “We know this is not going to be an easy project.”

McElree acknowledged that the cost of replacing laterals could pose a significant financial burden on residents but promised that he will work with them. One resident said he got an estimate that said it would cost $8,150 to replace his lateral. McElree said that because of state regulations, the borough is able to offset the cost only by $500 per unit in subsidy.

He advised the residents to get together for collective group quote to get a better deal by hiring a plumber to do the work.

Resident Thomas Mitchell spoke out on behalf of his neighbors and said that he knows many people on his block are living on fixed income and raising children and that obligation would put them in difficult situation.

“When we got the letters, its immediate anger…and then it goes to fear after that,” Mitchell said. “What are we going to do to get this done?” 

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