YOUNGSTOWN Sewage backup angers residents
Most city sewers carry domestic waste, but are designed to take on storm water during heavy rains.
By PAUL WHEATLEY
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- At least 21 residents on the southeast side want the city to investigate damage left from Friday's storm, contending antiquated sewers caused raw sewage to flood their basements.
Tom and Teresa Vogler said their Weston Avenue home suffered thousands of dollars in damage. They are considering a class-action lawsuit against the city if their homeowner's insurance won't cover the bill.
Teresa Vogler said 14 inches of sewage flooded their basement and blew footer drains from the concrete.
"I literally had a geyser in my basement," said Tom Vogler.
The Voglers say they spent $4,000 waterproofing and replacing drains last year after city officials told them the flooding was a result of the Voglers' poor drains, not the city's.
Contractors estimated replacing concrete and drains would cost the Voglers at least $2,500.
"That doesn't include the stuff we lost due to flooding," Teresa Vogler said.
Tom lost about 30 psychology reference books, and Teresa lost an antique rocking chair that belonged to her great-grandmother.
Other times: Debbie Salvatore, another Weston Avenue resident, said she had human waste and toilet paper floating in her basement. The same thing has happened to her on five previous occasions, most recently in April.
She said she talked to an unidentified employee in the sewage treatment plant about filing charges and he told her to take a number.
"Who wants to stay somewhere if this is going to keep happening to you?" Salvatore asked.
Iris Guglucello, Youngstown's deputy law director, said she hasn't been contacted by anyone about a class-action lawsuit.
EPA matter: However, the city is currently seeking a settlement with the U.S. and Ohio Environmental Protection agencies concerning the city's alleged violations of the Clean Water Act and Ohio EPA permits.
Guglucello said the government's allegations involve sewage levels that exceed limits allowed by permit and sewage discharges from unpermitted sources.
Allegations also cite a failure to complete a combined sewer operation and maintenance plan and failure to complete sewer rehabilitation projects.
She said a trial would be scheduled some time in 2002 if a settlement isn't reached.
The federal government wanted $200 million worth of work completed in less than 10 years, which could potentially quadruple city sewer bills.
The city actually received about $67 million in federal funds in the mid-1980s to upgrade sewers after a city study outlining sewer projects in the late 1970s. Some, but not all, of the projects were completed to the EPA's satisfaction.
The OEPA turned the matter of ignored projects over to the state attorney general in 1992 for enforcement. The matter was turned over to the federal government in 1996 after talks broke down.
Larry Gurlea, sewage treatment plant superintendent, said about 70 percent of city sewers are part of a combination system that usually carries domestic sewage but takes on storm water, by design, during heavy rains.
He said it takes 11/2 to two years to clean every city sewer. He also said city work crews returned to Weston Avenue after the storm to clean out drains.
"It's like closing a barn door after the cows have already been let out," Tom Vogler said.
Horrible stench: John Hutter, another Weston Avenue resident, said more than a foot of sewage flooded his basement. Luckily, he learned from a 1995 flood at the same home and stacked his valuables on shelves.
Preplanning didn't save his dryer though; nor did it save his home from the stench of sewage.
"It was horrible," he said.
His wife spent parts of two days scrubbing the basement with bleach.Hutter said he'll be part of a lawsuit if it moves forward.
"At my job, if I mess up, I get in trouble for it," he said.
National Weather Service estimates show the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport received 1.37 inches of rain Friday.
Gurlea said rain-measuring equipment placed around the city picked up 2.8 inches of rain by about 2 p.m. that day.