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Grease doesn't make sewage flow easier

(7/18) The last time a storm came through Emmitsburg, something else came through the town's sewer lines and settled in A. M. Winch's toilet … sewage.

"I do not understand why I should have sewage in my basement, in my garage, in my toilet," Winch said.

It is not the first time something like this has happened in that area of town. Emmit Gardens is the lowest-lying area on the town sewer system. Sewage from all areas of town passes through there on its way to the sewer plant.

"I have personally witnessed sewer water spilling out of and springing up from manhole covers in the middle of the street and the field adjacent to my property. This sludge enters my yard and home from the stream, the field, the street, the driveway and via reflux into the commode and sink in my basement," Winch wrote in a letter to the Emmitsburg mayor and commissioners.

She wrote that homeowners in her neighborhood "plug their drains to avoid regurgitation of the effluent and must serve as involuntary auxiliary pumping stations for the town by using their sump pumps."

Mayor James Hoover responded on July 10 that the town has experienced two small spills of untreated sewage over the past seven months.

Town Manager Dave Haller told the commissioners, "It wasn't due to the high flows. It was excess grease build up."

Haller said the problem is businesses that are not using grease traps as defined by town ordinance to keep grease out of the sewer system. When grease gets into the system, it tends to build up on the pipes.

"Where you did have a 10-inch pipe you might have a four-inch pipe," Haller said.

For now, the pipes in the Emmit Gardens area have been cleaned out and town staff is putting together a plan to identify the businesses in violation of the ordinance.

Winch suggested that the town seal its manholes to keep the sewage from getting outside the system. Hoover said this would only force sewage spills to come out into people's homes.

"While we don't want to see the spills in the environment, we also don't want to see it in people's homes. So you're damned if you do and damned if you don't," Hoover said.

Though the system is ill-suited for its current uses, when it was first built, it was adequate. However, it was built in 1947 before the town had regulations governing such things as sewer capacity.

Winch recommended that a building moratorium be imposed until all of the sewer problems are fixed. Hoover replied that new growth allows the town to sell water and sewer connections and builders pay $22,000 for a water and sewer connection. It is that money that allows the town to make capital improvements to the system. Without it, repairs and improvement would not be funded or not be funded as quickly.

"Without some growth and the collection of the 'sewer collection system charge' the cost to repair and upgrade the town's existing sanitary sewer system would have to be borne solely by the existing residents," Hoover wrote.

While the town has started working to address Emmit Gardens problem specifically, Hoover said it could still take a year to fully address.

Read other news stories related to the Emmitsburg Town Government