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Resident questions Town Board on Sewer Authority vent code
By Lee Chowaniec
May 26, 2009, 09:01
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Over the years, Lancaster homeowners have appeared before the Lancaster Town Board and/or written to the board complaining about basement sanitary sewer backups. Recently a group of Kennedy Court subdivision homeowners appeared at the Erie County Sewer District #4 office to seek resolve.

In a follow up letter sent to the residents, Deputy Commissioner Michael J. Quinn declared it was a particularly wet winter and early spring and stated that early investigations on their part indicated that inflow and/or infiltration (I&I) of storm water into sanitary sewers is the root cause of the problem. Quinn stated that there were a number of steps the county was going to take to identify and correct problems at their end of responsibility.

Quinn also stated that in its undergoing project, it is imperative to eliminate extraneous storm water from the sanitary system and that house inspections would be conducted to identify illegal connections to the sanitary sewer system; sump pumps, downspouts and floor drains. An inspection of the lateral sewer pipe to identify cracks, blockages (roots), collapsed pipes and at time inflow and infiltration will take place. (Laterals are the connecting pipes from the home to the street main and their repair/replacement costs are the responsibility of the homeowner.

Homeowners in the impacted areas were notified by mail of the inspections, the time the inspections would occur and that failure to allow District Personnel to inspect properties is a violation of said Rules and Regulations; failure to do so is subject to a penalty or fine.
Quinn also stated in his correspondence that DSM staff are available to discuss interim steps to protect homes from sanitary sewer backups when the sewer system may be surcharged – including the installation of check valves on laundry tubs and other basement facilities. Some residents have already installed such devises and found this past mid-winter that when the sewer system was surcharged they were unable to use toilets, dish washers, etc. until the surcharge cleared; in this case three days.

Residents are left wondering what will happen when inspections are conducted and illegal connections are found; illegal connections in today’s world, but not when the houses in question were built 30 or more years ago. Some residents have already spent thousands of dollars in making corrective measures and are still experiencing sewer backups.

Sewer vents

To further prevent water inflow into the sewer system, the Erie County Sewer Authority is telling residents that ground level sewer vents have to have a six inch riser added with a mushroom cap.

Modified sewer riser and mushroom cap

A resident who had received such notice informed the Town Board that he had met earlier in the day with Sewer District Manager Roger L. Lalli. The purpose was twofold. The first discussion centered on reviewing the original blue prints of Town District 2 which they located.

These were the prints given to Larry Pohl, Roger Lalli’s predecessor. The plans indicated that all of the area encompassing what is now the older section Kennedy Court (excluding Columbia Gardens) was within the geographic boundary of SD2. Later additions east of Central (such as, Meadow Lea, etc.) were added to SD2 later as extensions.

Mr. Lalli indicated again the effluent from Kennedy Court crosses Central into the line from the High School and then flows south to Charlton, thence onward to the Iroquois Street pumping station. This runs contrary to the claim made by the Sewer District #4 to the Kennedy Court residents that their subdivision has always been located in sewer district #4.

The resident then spoke on the mandate that exists for capping the sewer vents in front yards. “After inspecting my house and finding nothing of concern inside, on the outside he told me that I would have to install a cast iron mushroom cap that would have to sit on a riser (extension) that was six inches above ground level.

He went on to say that if the average individual were to contract to have this done, it would more likely cost him or her up to $200. The resident was disturbed to hear that the county now has the authority to come in and dictate these type actions; when in fact the town has no such ordinance. He also voiced that having such vent riser sticking six inches above the ground could be a tripping hazard and/or other safety issue.

Supervisor Robert Giza interjected that when they built his house, about the same time frame, the sewer vent was actually on the house itself and three-four feet off the ground. The resident declared that the sewer vents are supposed to be at least five feet from the house.

He went on to say that he did not see the advantage of the cap, which vents air in from the bottom of the mushroom cap, during high snow periods and the melting of such snow. “I think this is kind of a reach by the county and I think the town should either pass an ordinance that mandates this action, or because the sewers are an asset of the county, say that the town will not enforce the county’s mandate.”

Supervisor Giza asked Town Engineer Robert Harris his opinion of the reason for the county mandate. Harris replied that although it may seem like a conservative move, it is an attempt by the county to reduce the amount of water that infiltrates into a system whose capacity is limited to handling sanitary waste. If the vent is ground level, there is more opportunity for snow melt and/or heavy rain water to get into the sanitary sewer line, thereby surcharging the sewer system and causing low-level basement waste backups. It is a pretty standard number (6” above ground) across New York State.

Supervisor Giza interjected that he did not see vent pipes sticking 6” above the ground in his travels.

“That’s what the code reads,” replied Harris.

“Well, I don’t have any in the lawn,” said Giza. “Mine is on the wall of my basement.”

Harris responded: “I have been told that in the future, when your house is sold, it will have to be changed.”

Giza: “I will bring this up at the next Sewer District #4 board meeting and see what direction it takes.”


I also spoke on the matter and informed the board that my vent was in my sidewalk approach and ground level. There was no way a 6” riser with a mushroom cap could be installed without tripping risk, snow shoveling issues and aesthetic concern. Would my vent have to be relocated?

Harris replied that more likely than not it would have to be relocated. But that decision is not now in the hands of the town.

Supervisor Giza interjected that this was the first time he has heard of the issue.

Councilman Ron Ruffino opined that sidewalk vent caps are often missing and as such create and unsafe condition for people and animals as well. “I think that location of the venting system is of primary concern.”

I encouraged Supervisor Giza, as Sewer District #4 Chair to review the matter at their next board meeting and to get back to the public as to the direction the county is taking on the matter and the costs involved to homeowners to comply with new regulations.

Some homeowners have already spent thousands of dollars to prevent basement sewer backups, have not eliminated the problem, and are being told they may have to spend thousands more. They are being told that if they installed “hung plumbing” they would get relief. “That’s what we would do,” they tell the impacted homeowners. Does everyone out there have thousands of dollars to spend on such enterprise?

Is it any wonder homeowners are telling the town to correct its storm water issues, and telling the county to make sure their system is breach free before they mandate changes to their house “illegal hookups” – which were not code illegal when their houses were built?

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