Foul problem finally scheduled for remedy in West Anniston
by Paige Rentz
Sep 19, 2013 | 3488 views |  0 comments | 83 83 recommendations | email to a friend | print
RC Walker and Terry Williams at the site where raw sewage runs into a hole in a yard where a house was torn down on West 15th Street. Photo by Stephen Gross.
RC Walker and Terry Williams at the site where raw sewage runs into a hole in a yard where a house was torn down on West 15th Street. Photo by Stephen Gross.
R.C. Walker stood in the vacant lot near his home at 1310 W. 15th Street this week, looking at the broken sewer pipe sending human waste flowing into his neighborhood. During the hot days of summer, he said, the stench is terrible, and flies and mosquitoes have become an increasing problem in recent months.

Ronald Jackson lives up the block from Walker on McDaniel Avenue. He fears the conditions are hazardous to the entire neighborhood.

“When the wind blows, you get a scent of it up there,” he said.

Residents living along the 1300 block of West 15th Street have been searching for a remedy to the foul problem for decades.

With a long history of sewage backups in the area, residents have sought the city’s help since at least 1995 to correct a structural problem that keeps sewage streaming onto their property. But the problem frustrating Walker and his neighbors may finally be resolved for good Friday. Interim City Manager Danny McCullars said he ordered the city to connect the exposed pipe to the main sewage line about 100 feet away, under emergency circumstances.

Pres Allinder, director of the Bureau of Environmental Services with the state Public Health Department, said the raw sewage is definitely a hazard, particularly because vectors — animals that can carry disease — have open access to fecal matter. This means that beyond the usual vectors such as flies and other insects, family dogs or even children could track in viruses and bacteria such as E coli.

The problem stems from the original construction of several homes on Walker’s block in 1937. The sewer line serving Walker’s home was run to at least three other homes before being connected to the main sewer line. This can cause homes further from the main line to suffer when homes in between have plumbing problems.

Rodney Owens, assistant general manager of the Anniston Water Works & Sewer Board, said that even though such linked lines are no longer allowed, they were grandfathered in when the board was organized in 1962.

Bob Dean, Anniston’s director of public works, said he had been aware of the problem for several weeks. The city began taking steps to correct the problem when it tore down two homes along the community line on W. 15th St., under which city officials believed the problem pipes were located.

Dean said the homes were vacant and in bad shape, so the city demolished them as nuisance properties. But when city employees tried to dig up the pipes to tap into the main sewer line, they couldn’t’ find them. The city even called the sewer board for help locating the pipes.

Owens said that because the sewer board is not allowed to work on private sewer lines, the entity does not keep records of pipes that extend beyond its mains. But one of his crews went to the site at the request of the city, and workers couldn’t find the lines using pipe horns, which use sound signals to locate underground pipes.

Woodie Harmon said he gave the city permission to tear down the home he grew up in and inherited from his grandmother so the city could fix the problem.

“I just really did it because I didn’t want those people to deal with that situation there anymore,” he said.

Harmon said the problem dates at least to the 1990s. His mother, Ernestine Harmon, lived in the home at 1314 W. 15th St. after her mother died in the late 1980s. Harmon said his mother believed the sewage that built up under her house caused her to contract hepatitis C. Ernestine Harmon unsuccessfully sued the city and the sewer board in 1995 to remedy the problem.

Dean said a similar problem cropped up about 2008 or 2009, when some plumbing under one of the recently demolished homes came loose. Because the home was abandoned, the city had a plumber repair it.

Terry Williams, another neighborhood resident, said the city put a band-aid on the problem last time, and “now the band-aid’s done come off.” He said if the city is having trouble finding a permanent solution, it should install a septic tank or other temporary fix in the meantime.

The major delay in finishing the work this time around, Dean said, has been trying to contact the out-of-state owner of a third house along the community sewer line. Dean said the city sought permission to tear down the vacant structure, which would also give the city authority to make repairs on the lines. When the owner told the city this week not to tear down the home, Dean said the city had to find a way to run about 100 feet of pipe around the property and into the main sewer line. The work, which would typically cost about $1,500 to $2,000, is scheduled to be completed Friday morning by city workers.

“We’re doing that based on the fact that it’s a health hazard to the public,” Dean said.

Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.

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