A river of sewage fouls neighborhood's summer

September 07, 2005|By Tyrone Richardson | Tyrone Richardson,SUN STAFF

For more than three months, a foul-smelling soup of raw sewage and litter streamed down an alleyway joining houses on Brooklyn Avenue and 8th Street in southern Baltimore.

Resident Mark Snead, 45, said he complained to the city Health Department about the filth that flowed from jury-rigged pipes that extended from two houses on 8th Street. He reported the raw sewage in May, but it continued to flow from the pipes until a few days ago. The stinking mess frayed the nerves of neighborhood residents and made them wonder whether the city would ever do anything to help them.

"I just don't think it's right," said Snead, who lives in the 3900 block of Brooklyn Ave. "I couldn't even run the air conditioner because it's pulling [the smell] in, and we couldn't use the pool. I couldn't do anything because of the smell, and it's just not healthy."

Aaron Martin, one of Snead's neighbors, said the stench ruined his summer.

"I was going to have a cookout out here, but you can't with all this raw sewage," Martin said.

Snead said he doesn't understand why it took the city so long to act. The sewage did not stop flowing until a reporter visited the neighborhood and called city officials to inquire about the situation.

City Health Department records show that an inspector visited the neighborhood in May and observed raw sewage flowing from a house in the 4000 block of 8th St.

A subsequent inspection in early August determined that sewage also was coming from a house next door. The owners of both houses received citations, but a late August inspection report showed that raw sewage continued to flow from both houses.

On Aug. 30, a reporter accompanied Snead and Martin and as they pointed to a black, plastic pipe hidden in overgrown grass behind the first house. That evening, raw sewage began spewing from the pipe and rats foraged in the alley and backyards. Snead looked on in disgust.

"I'm tired of the runaround," Snead said. "We're not supposed to live like this."

Snead and Martin said they'd seen unsuspecting children playing in the filth in the alleyway.

"Kids were riding their bikes in it, splashing water everywhere and they did not know what it was," Snead said. "You had kids sitting right in it making mud pies."

In a phone interview the next day, a tenant in one of the houses said residents there had stopped paying rent months ago because they did not know who their landlord was.

The tenant said sewage began backing up in the house and a plumber was hired to divert the waste through a black rubber pipe. He referred a reporter to Frank Kosmakos, a liaison for the landlord.

Kosmakos said the tenants "are squatters and haven't paid rent in years," He said he filed paperwork for an eviction late last week.

City Health Department records identify the owner of the house as Alfred Scardina of Cumberland.

Kosmakos said he and the landlord were aware of the raw sewage problem and that plumbers had worked on the residence twice, but were unable to fix the problem.

Repeated efforts to reach Scardina were unsuccessful.

City records identify CS&G Enterprises LLC as the owner of the second house on 8th St. Efforts to reach the company were unsuccessful, but yesterday afternoon, a private contractor with a backhoe did construction work in the backyard of the house.

Kosmakos said he planned to have a plumber return to repair the sewage problem this week.

Two other homeowners in the 4000 block of 8th St. said they also experienced sewage problems, which they blamed on tree roots blocking the sewer line. One homeowner blamed the city for failing to keep the pipes unblocked.

A few weeks ago, work crews cleaned the sewer pipes leading to the houses, said Kurt L. Kocher, spokesman for the Department of Public Works. A subsequent inspection revealed that the pipes were clear and working. The city was not responsible for the problem, he added.

On Aug. 31, city public works officials shut off water to both dwellings and issued citations to the owners.

Makeda Scott, a spokeswoman for the Department of Housing and Community Services said they were working with the owners of both houses to solve the problem without going to housing court.

Olivia Farrow, the Health Department's commissioner of environmental health, said the owners of the houses have been fined for the violations and that the fines will increase the longer the problems go uncorrected.

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