TROY - The issue of sewer backups was addressed at the recent Troy Borough Council meeting.

In advance of the meeting, resident Bill Middleton on March 18 had informed the borough in an email about what he described as "ongoing sewer backups at my Railroad Street property and last week at my John Street property."

Middleton attended the council meeting this week, and spoke to the board during the public comment period at the end of the meeting about the sewer backups.

At the beginning of the meeting, borough manager Dan Close outlined planned steps to address the problem.

"I'd like to start with some discussion around the wastewater collection system," Close said during his report. "There's been some questions asked to the borough office in regards to the maintenance that's done on the collection system because of backups that have occurred within the borough." He called sewer backups "a terrible problem."

Close then outlined what he called "the current maintenance program as it exists."

"The siphons in the borough are cleaned on a quarterly basis," Close told council.

Siphons are used in both municipal and individual on-lot wastewater systems, according to Daniel Spadoni, community relations coordinator with the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). He said cleaning them on a periodic basis "would be a very appropriate and beneficial operation and maintenance practice."

Also, Close said that "known problem areas in the borough are reviewed as time allows."

In addition, Close said that "plugs are responded to as soon as possible, immediately I would say." These areas are then "followed up" for a day or two to make sure they are still "open and flowing," he said. He also noted that persistent problem areas are checked with a camera to ascertain the problem.

Close then talked about future changes "that I would to make to our maintenance system on the collection side of things."

Close called for "documentation of each significant incident."

"Any time there's a plug out there, put it in the log book, what time did it occur, what date that it occurred, so that we can track that and better identify the problem area," he said. He also said that documentation of all maintenance that is performed is needed.

Another strategy Close suggested was "to establish routine inspection and cleaning with (an) outside contractor" with the timeline to be established by the sewer committee. He said the question is how much line should be inspected each year.

"The reason I look for an outside contractor is they have better capabilities of videotaping," he said. Close added, "the committee would need to determine that because if we go to that level, we're obviously looking at very possibly a rate increase on the sewer side because we've had them in before, and it's not inexpensive."

Close had two people attending the meeting to whom he addressed several questions. They were Steve Sauers, operations manager with PA Environmental Solutions, Inc., and Dave Walters with Larson Design Group.

Close noted that when the borough's plant operator retired, the borough hired PA Environmental Solutions Inc.

"PA Environmental Solutions, Inc. is a very highly qualified organization who has a certified operator in our plant every single day," he said. He also cited other credentials of PA Environmental Solutions, Inc. Sauers provided some additional information about the company.

Close asked him to comment on the steps Troy was looking to take.

"Is that the right direction to be going in?" Close asked.

"I think that's the right direction to be going in," Sauers answered.

"To take a pro-active approach like that, I agree," he added.

Close introduced Walters, the borough's municipal engineer, and had him speak. He also supported the measures Close described.

Walters added, "council can't really control what people flush down their toilets, and sometimes that leads to these clogs that aren't anticipated." He thought documentation would help.

Check valves were suggested.

"In those cases where clogs may occur frequently because of the hydraulics of the system, it may behoove the property owners to install what they call check valves on their laterals," he added. "That would prevent a backup into their system. In the event that the main line backs up, that check valve would close on their lateral line and prevent that backup from getting back into their home. In those cases, that is on the private lateral that the property owner owns, and it would be the property owner's responsibility and cost to install those check valves." He said property owners could check with a local plumber about cost.

"It's not uncommon in systems that do have periodic backups for property owners to take that preventative measure," he commented.

Walters also said Larson recommended PA Environmental Solutions, Inc. to the borough, and spoke about the company's credentials and experience.

"They're a highly qualified operations firm," he said.

Council then moved on to the business of the meeting, after which Middleton was given the opportunity to address council.

In his email to the borough, Middleton had stated, "Not only do these backups affect me as a property owner and tax payer but my tenants are also affected by the foul odor and health issues. My tenant in the lower apartment on Railroad (Street) has had to move herself, her young daughter, and pets to temporary shelter each time these backups occur. And the tenants in the upper two apartments are unable to flush or wash until these backups are removed."

Addressing council at the meeting, Middleton said the sewer backups were unacceptable.

"It's going to start affecting our property values," he said. "Who is going to want to move into a borough where the sewers are backing up?"

He said Close had brought in his "experts," referring to Sauers and Walters, "just because noise has been made about" the backups.

"Something has got to be done about these sewers," Middleton said.

"Now, I talked with (councilman) Mike Davison yesterday," Middleton continued. "He told me he wasn't aware of any of this. Now, I think council should be made aware of these backups. We have a sewer committee. They should know about it, not once a month at a meeting, but when they happen." Davison wasn't present at the meeting.

Middleton said he had two borough employees tell him that there is no maintenance.

"Somebody has to know what's going on here, and the sewers have to be maintained," he said.

Middleton shared his opinions with what he thought needed to be done. After some discussion between Middleton and Close about what had happened regarding the borough's response, Close told him, "I'm not going to sit here and argue. Stuff goes down those pipes and goes in those manholes. When you get a clog in a line and the manhole is full of sludge and the stuff isn't moving anywhere … solids settle, so then when you get the line cleaned out, the manhole is going to have solids in the bottom of it. Those are then physically removed from the manhole and taken away…"

"How often are those physically removed, Dan?" Middleton said. "There is no regular maintenance program." He told Close that he has 27 years of experience with sewers, and said that he knows what he is talking about.

Close responded, "I appreciate your experience, and I want you to appreciate that we do do maintenance on these lines. We do do maintenance on these manholes. And I don't know what the employees told you or why, but I've talked to them in our meetings and they have not said they have told you that. But I'm not going to get into a 'he said, she said' in a public meting with you. We do maintain the system, we have maintained the system." He said the borough will continue to maintain the system, and will start documentation.

Council president Jason Hodlofski brought up the idea of the backflow preventor, or check valve, as a preventative measure.

Middleton said this wasn't the answer, however.

"It's not up to the individuals in the borough to stop this problem," he said.

Walters told him, "I somewhat disagree with that because as I've said before, the borough can't totally eliminate these blockages. It's the nature of the beast."

"It's not just this one property," Middleton said. "Different properties and different locations in the borough it's happening at."

Council member Jen Malehorn said that "if there's a known trouble area, we are going to have to pay more attention."

Hodlofski thought the program the borough was going to implement would help, but he added, "you can also put a preventative measure" in place.

"There is a preventative, problem-solving piece of equipment that can be used in conjunction with the borough doing their part," he said.

"Absolutely," Malehorn agreed.

Eric Hrin can be reached at (570) 297-5251; email: reviewtroy@thedailyreview.com.