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Blame no one for Village of Lancaster ongoing sewer issues says Collins’ letter
By Lee Chowaniec
Aug 2, 2011, 10:39
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Lancaster Town Board Councilman Mark Aquino reported on a letter sent by County Executive Chris Collins submitted to Town and Village of Lancaster officials/residents telling them in no uncertain terms that in his opinion no evidence has been provided to link causes to any municipality agency for the sanitary sewer backup issues being experienced by the Village of Lancaster residents.

“There is a lot of misinformation out there about sewers,” declared Aquino, “and this presents a factual basis of what they are doing, the Sewer District and the Village of Lancaster standpoint, to resolve the problems. The letter is very informational regarding the sanitary sewer issues that have been plaguing the Village.”

Collins letter

As County Executive, I want to take this opportunity to update you regarding the ongoing sewer issues you have experienced in your Village of Lancaster neighborhood. It is my understanding that homeowners are confused and frustrated over the lack of real information related to this situation. I also understand Village officials have been blaming Erie County for the continued sanitary sewer backups in your neighborhood. Instead of engaging in the blame game, I want to set the record straight, provide you with the facts as you know them, and outline how Erie County plans to continue working with the Village to resolve the matter for you and your affected neighbors.

As you probably know, the sanitary sewer connected to your property is solely owned, operated and maintained by the Village of Lancaster, not Erie County. Erie County does have a Division of Sewage Management which is responsible for the County’s sanitary sewer facilities spread out over seven Erie County Sewer Districts. The Village is part of Erie County Sewer District Number 4, but maintains and operates its own sanitary sewer collection system connected to properties within the Village. Under this arrangement, the Village is responsible for the collection of waste through its own pipes and the County is responsible for moving the waste out of the Village through interceptor sewers to downstream wastewater treatment facilities.

As you are well aware, there have been several complaints of basement backups from the sanitary sewer system in the southwestern portion of the Village. The homes impacted in the area are connected to a Village owned 18-inch diameter sewer pipe. Some flow from Erie County Sewer District Number 4 does run through that same 18-inch pipe as it works its way to the wastewater treatment facilities.

There are numerous factors that could cause flow backups in a sanitary sewer system including, but not limited to, blockages, collapses, and increases in flow due to connections or the infiltration of rainwater or groundwater. The Village has alleged that flow from Erie County Sewer District Number 4 into the Village pipes is causing the repetitive backups in homeowners’ basements. However, not one piece of data has been presented by the Village to substantiate this claim.

In contrast, an engineering study conducted several years ago determined that the 18-inch pipe diameter would be able to handle flow from Erie County Sewer District Number 4, as well as additional flow as more residential and commercial development was approved in the southern portions of the Town of Lancaster. That study based its findings on full development capacity of the area. Today, only about two-thirds of the potentially developed land has actually been developed in this section of town.

In an effort to actually find a cause and solution to this problem, instead of passing blame without supporting fact, Erie County met with Village elected officials and staff in June to propose a joint investigation into the cause of these continued backups. This offer is similar to one that Erie County proposed to the Village a decade ago that was rejected. Fortunately, the Village accepted the County’s offer this time around. As a result, you may have seen County staff and equipment in your area over the last several weeks.

As part of the agreement, Erie County used its staff and taxpayer dollars to study the condition of the Village’s 18-inch diameter pipe. County crews flushed the pipe and found debris, including large rocks that were removed. Erie County also used its technology resources to send small cameras through the pipe in an attempt to identify any potential problems. County crews found the pipe to be in generally good condition, but they did find minor sagging, joint cracks/separation, and flow restrictions caused by tree roots. There was one major root restriction spread across the entire diameter of the sewer and was promptly removed by County crews to restore flow capacity to the pipe. Again, this work was performed at no cost to the Village despite the pipe being Village infrastructure.

As you may be aware, the Village has installed portable pumps along the flow stream of the sanitary sewer in an attempt to alleviate the continued basement backups. Erie County crews found strainers on these pumps to be clogged with sewage debris and suggested the Village remove them because they were actually impeding the flow of wastewater. Erie County is also analyzing existing flow monitoring data and conducting computer modeling to better understand the way the Village’s system reacts under high flow conditions.

Finally, I want to share information with you regarding the proposed elimination of the County’s Aurora North Pumping Station. It is my understanding that many Village residents are under the false impression that this project is being considered as a solution to the ongoing issues in your neighborhood. The Board of Managers of Erie County Sewer District Number 4 proposed eliminating the Aurora North Pumping Station because it is need of repair/upgrades, and it was found that a more cost efficient gravity connection could be constructed instead. The elimination of this pumping station would redirect flows from the southeast portion of Erie County Sewer District Number 4 to a location downstream of the Village, and therefore reduce the amount of wastewater transmitted through the Village’s 18-inch diameter pipe.

However, the project will not eliminate all flows from the County to the Village’s sewer and there is no guarantee that it will alleviate basement backup issues in the southwestern portion of the Village. Again, it is important to stress, despite claims by Village officials and personnel, there is no proof or supporting data to show that the flow from the County is causing basement backups. This project is currently in the design phase and requires approval from the appropriate state agencies.

I hope you found this letter informative and helpful. It is the intent of my administration to continue to work cooperatively with the Village to solve this situation. As Erie County collects more data in our effort to help determine the cause of this problem, I will share that with you. As always, if you have questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact my office.

The letter was personally signed by County Executive Chris Collins.

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