Residents push city on sewer woes Officials plan tests to determine why basements flood

August 01, 1996|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

For Taneytown residents Sharon and Dale Kline, city officials can't formulate an emergency sewer plan fast enough.

The Klines have had as much as 5 to 6 inches of sewage in their basement on West Baltimore Street three times this year, and every storm cloud is a reminder of what they say is the city's foot-dragging.

Last week, officials from the Storm Water Management Administration of the Maryland Department of the Environment toured the city's problem sites and ordered Taneytown officials to develop a written emergency plan to handle sewage overflows.

Previously, MDE officials ordered the city to stop pumping overflow sewage onto city streets to alleviate basement backups.

"We're still negotiating a consent order with Taneytown officials to deal with the problem short and long term," said Quentin Banks, an MDE spokesman.

Banks said the problem escalated this year because the area has had about three times its normal rainfall.

Yesterday, Taneytown officials reported no problems despite several days of intermittent rain.

Banks said no deadline to resolve the problem has been set. "Our storm-water management folks are not going to let this go on indefinitely," he said. "The Taneytown system definitely needs some major upgrading, and city officials are understandably concerned about repair costs."

Charles "Chip" Boyles, city manager for Taneytown, is aware of the potential costs and is not unsympathetic to residents whose homes have flooded.

But the problem must be identified before it can be fixed, he said. City officials know storm water is getting into the sewer system, overwhelming the capacity of the system and causing a backup into some basements, Boyles said.

"We have to do some testing to find out where it's getting into the system and then figure out how to stop it," he said. "Manholes may need to be repaired, or we may have broken sewer lines, or illegal storm-water connections running into sewer lines. We just don't know."

The Klines, who moved into their home about nine years ago, have heard all the possible reasons.

"We've even been told that too many downspouts are hooked up illegally to the sewer lines, dumping rainwater from roofs into the system," said Sharon Kline. "But this wasn't rainwater in our basement. It was raw sewage."

The Klines also are concerned for their elderly neighbors.

"One is 91 years old, and we try to help her because she's worried about her furnace," Sharon Kline said.

The Klines said they are more concerned about sanitation and family health than the $9,000 they paid to clean up and make repairs after the January flooding from the Blizzard of 1996. More recently, sewage flooded their basement when Tropical Storm Bertha passed through the area, dumping about 5 inches of rain in Taneytown in a little more than an hour July 8.

"We have three sons -- 14, 12, and 7," Sharon Kline said. "The oldest has his bedroom in the basement. Three times we have had to clean the entire basement and, each time, we did it thoroughly three times, just to be sure we didn't miss anything."

Boyles said the worst flooding problems have cropped up on West Baltimore Street and on Grand Drive on the east side of the city.

"Some homeowners have lived with this for quite a long time," he said. "Some have not finished their basements because of it."

To develop a short-term emergency plan, Boyles said city officials will have to identify where the storm water is getting into the sewer system.

"Bids for testing went out and are due back by Aug. 1," he said. "As soon as they all are in, we'll move quickly to get the testing done."

Boyles said two types of tests generally are done -- putting smoke in the sewer lines or inserting a small video camera into the lines.

"It's expensive, costing as much as $3 or $4 a linear foot," he said.

Some money has been budgeted to pay for testing, he said.

"We hope to identify the worst areas and concentrate on them first," he said.

In the long term, Taneytown officials are working to upgrade and expand the city's outdated sewer system, which serves 1,500 customers. The city needs to expand its treatment plant to accommodate a growing population and to serve additional industries it hopes to attract, Boyles said.

The City Council wants to double the sewage treatment plant's 700,000-gallon daily capacity, he said.

The Maryland Department of the Environment must approve any preliminary plans before Taneytown can receive additional grant money to make treatment plant improvements.

Pub Date: 8/01/96

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