We, Heather and Miguel are experiencing quite a disgusting and perplexing problem. Basically the main sewer line running through our alley has become obstructed near our southern property line, and has subsequently broken, which has been causing raw sewage from the alley to leak into our backyard for over a week now. From what Favinger Plumbing saw yesterday, very little sewage from the houses on the East side of Franklin Street is actually making it out to the bigger lines in Whatcom Street. Most of the sludge and solid material is backing up in the line and the liquid is spilling over into our yard, from all 10 or so houses uphill of ours. We now have about 2-3 inches of liquid raw sewage in our yard at any one time (photo included). The liquid and sludge are beginning to back up even further in the pipe and liquid is now backing up into Babbie’s sewer line to the South of us.
If you walk down the alley, you will see a wet area running down the West side of the alley from Babbie’s house to ours; this is sewage seeping through the ground starting at the location of the blockage.
We started having this problem last Monday (18th) and the city came to assess the problem. We have had the health department out as well, but to little avail. Basically, they said “yep, you should fix this.” This is the response from Dick McKinley (Director of Public Works) when I wrote to him this morning:” Unfortunately, this is a private shared lateral, not a City-owned public sewer line. It is no different than the lateral in front of your house. This is the responsibility of the private owners of the line. The City cannot use public (ratepayer) funds to solve this problem. That would be considered a gift of public funds and against State law.”
This is a map of our sewer line.
The perplexing part of the issue is that the city does not claim responsibility NOW, but if we were to fix the problem at our expense, they would resume ownership of the line. Also, the city does not allow private persons (us) to do any maintenance work in the alley (even though they claim that we have “shared ownership” of the line), so we would have to use their contractors to do the work. An important point to consider is whether or not it would be prudent to replace the entire line, or just the 40-foot section that appears to be damaged so far. Although we haven’t received a formal estimate yet, just to replace the line from Edwards to Whatcom Street. The pipe is 6” in diameter and is between 60 and 90 years old, made of concrete and similar pipes have been known to fail in other areas. Regardless of what needs repair in the alley, Miguel and I will also have to repair the line from our house to the main line, as that appears to be damaged as well.
If you have any information on this issue, or if you know anyone in Bellingham that has experienced a similar problem, your input is valuable. At this point, we have met with the York Neighborhood Association, and have several people contacting prominent players in the community for help. We are strongly opposed to fixing the line in the alley on our bill (personally or as a group), and quite frankly it should be the city’s responsibility. The bottom line, however, is that something needs to be done to fix the problem immediately, or eventually, it will affect everyone on the block. We’re sure the city has experienced this same problem in other areas of Bellingham, but their answers to our questions as far as “who is responsible” don’t seem reasonable.
Stop by and See the Problem this weekend (we’ll be digging in the backyard) When we receive more information, we may be calling a meeting with as many people as possible on our street to talk about our options. In the meantime, we’re dealing with it and trying to form a solution as fast as possible. We ask our neighbors to please conserve and to be extra-conscious of what goes down your drain for the next several days (please no chemicals, harsh detergents, etc); as it is most likely ending up in someone’s yard.