Harrison man hauls sewage out of basement one bucket at time

September 30, 2018
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Joe Imm of Harrison in front of his Chestnut Street home in Harrison, where sewage has been entering the basement.

At age 68, Joe Imm of Harrison found himself getting unwanted exercise carrying filled five-gallon buckets from his basement.

But he had little choice. The buckets contained raw sewage coming into his Chestnut Street basement from a broken sewer line.

“I have sewage in my basement seven days a week, 24 hours a day,” Imm told the Harrison commissioners this week. “When it gets too deep, I go down and take it out in five-gallon buckets.”

He said no one in township government was aware of the problem until he spoke at the public meeting.

“I’m carrying it out, putting it into a storm sewer, and using a hose to make sure it goes down,” he said Thursday.

“I couldn’t sell the house if I wanted to,” he said.

Moderate rain and even using the washing machine or shower causes sewage to back up into his basement, Imm said. Heavy rain causes predictable problems.

No problem until January

Imm said he did not have that problem until the township started installation of an almost $600,000 sewer line in his Natrona neighborhood back in January. His house sits one door up from River Avenue behind the Grandma’s Inn, which he used to own and where the township crews began doing related work on some of the main line running along that street.

He believes vibrations from the heavy equipment being used caused the break in the old sewer line.

But, after Imm had been dealing with the situation for eight months, the Harrison commissioners agreed to give him some relief. They approved a recommendation from Township Engineer Ray Antonelli to connect a new lateral line that had been installed at Imm’s property with the new sewer line installed along the other side of the street.

He said that should eliminate the problem.

“I would think it would be in the range of $5,000,” Antonelli said of the cost of the work.

To be on the safe side, Commissioner Chuck Dizard proposed to do the work with the cost not to exceed $10,000 and the rest of the commissioners agreed.

Antonelli and Imm said one of the problems with the whole scenario is that the location of the main sewer line that serves Imm’s house. Houses along Chestnut Street on the left side of the sewer connect in the front. Houses on the right side go connect in the back along the alley.

Imm said he thinks township officials and the construction crews did not realize that until they started doing the excavation.

Imm’s bright yellow house is among at least four Chestnut Street house where sewage backed up. One had a sewer pump burn up, he said.

Imm prefers longer-reaching repairs but that can’t happen quick enough.

“We have a design that is going to pick up all those homes on his side of the street,” Antonelli said. “I’d hoped the other project would be imminent, but it’s not going to be as soon as he (Imm) would like.”

Imm said he was told that is because there is preliminary work to be done, such as acquiring easements and doing surveys, drawing new plans and bidding a contract.

“They said it was going to be another four or five months, and I said, ‘C’mon, I can’t wait for that. I have sewage in my basement,’” Imm said.

“My wife’s been getting sick,” he said. “I think it’s from smelling this all the time.”

Plumbing companies have searched for solutions, he said. One suggested the Imm dig up a corner of concrete so he could get to the backed-up water and sewage and easily identify toilet paper flowing up and out.

Imm said he did what he could to eliminate the problem by breaking up his basement floor and digging a pit into which the sewage would flow. Removing the concrete was heavy work.

When that couldn’t contain the overflow, Imm said, he start hauling buckets out.

“I’m getting too old to be hauling out five-gallon buckets,” Imm told the commissioners.

Imm’s washer and dryer sit atop concrete and are out of the flow area although it damaged linoleum on the floor.

Imm said he is glad commissioners agreed with him.

As for the front sewer connection, Imm said he would be happy to stay with that as opposed to hooking into the proposed new line in the rear - as long as it works.

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