Germantown residents 'furious' over sewage flooding

GERMANTOWN - October 11, 2013

A couple times a year these residents say they have to prepare for the worst, because a major sewer backup is pouring sewage into their homes and across their yards.

Anytime there is a strong rain their cars are swept away in flood waters.

They pay taxes, but feel the City has stuck them with a health risk and a seriously stinky situation.

Video taken in August shows water bubbling up from the sewers on Belfield Avenue.

"The big sign that there's going to be trouble is that manhole cover out there starts popping up out of the street," said Matthew Santillo.

Santillo has lived here since 2007. With any big rain, he says, the neighbors start scrambling, waiting for their basements and cars to be flooded with filth.

"The water rises up fast. You know, it goes from you're able to see the street to within 15 minutes the water is like here," said Santillo.

When Action News showed up, residents came out of the woodworks to tell about their horror stories.

Gregory has lost four cars in Belfield floods.

"Just that quick, in a matter minutes, the whole area is flooded and what you'll see is your car floating down the street," said Clifford Gregory.

Sandra Woodson's basement has been flooded several feet at times.

"And it seem like nobody cares, but City Hall knows - they know," said Woodson.

Residents showed us video and photos of their yards and basements flooded with sewage.

"It's ridiculous that this thing hasn't been taken care of. Been here for two years and people been living here for 40 years and the same thing is going on," said Solomon Miller.

Residents say the City has been promising to fix the problem since 2011.

"They ain't did anything about it. They probably could have fixed it, but they ain't done nothing yet," said James Woodson.

Action News sat down with Philadelphia Water Department spokeswoman Joanne Dahme.

"We get sick at heart every time we get a rain storm because we worry about our customers and how this is going to impact them and knowing we can't come up with a solution quickly enough," said Dahme.

Dahme explained that PWD is battling flooding across several older sections of the city, because the sewers, which were built 100 years ago, were not constructed to handle fast, heavy rains.

"That sort of high intensity rain storm overwhelm our sewer system," said Dahme.

The City started studying the problem in Germantown in 2011, following tropical storms Lee and Irene.

"We have invested a lot of time and money into sort of figuring it out, a long term solution that'll protect all properties. I think they're probably frustrated that they don't see us because we are doing that kind of work in the office. We do that kind of work on computers," said Dahme.

Even more frustrating may be that it may take the City 10 years to break ground on a solution.

PWD provided Action News with a map to show the scope of the problem. The Germantown sewer runs seven miles long, and runs as wide as Roosevelt Boulevard.

"It's a complicated, comprehensive solution that takes time and we want to make sure we get it right. I mean the Germantown solution could potentially cost us about $500 million by the time it's done," said Dahme.

However that answer isn't sufficient for residents, who feel the water department is doing little to protect this lower income area of the city.

"Having a sewer that work seems like a basic thing for a city. It seems like that's not negotiable," said Santillo.

When those basements and cars are destroyed, the City says they are not financially responsible, because it is considered an Act of God. PWD is looking at a possibility of a shorter term solution like a storage tank. However that could be the size of two football fields and still take years to build.

In the meantime there is the Basement Protection Program they are pushing residents to take use of which will help alleviate some of the problems, when sewage is seeping up through the bottoms of their basement floors.

More information on the PWD Basement Protection Program

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