By Frank Lewis
Portsmouth City Manager Derek K. Allen says he believes recent hilltop flooding was not the result of work done or not done by the city in dismantling its combined sewer overflow (CSO) system in that area.
At Monday’s City Council meeting Jane Murray, of Dorman Drive, said sewage got into homes in the area of 25th Street and parts of Grandview Avenue during recent downpours. She informed council she was in communication with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and would continue to communicate with them on the issue. She also mentioned there would be no cover-up of the incident and further stated people should be fired, and the contractor on the project sued.
“I had a two-hour conference phone call today with U.S. EPA regarding the status of our Administrative Consent Order,” Allen said. “We are looking at what options can be done to help certain individuals. Since the work done on the systems it would be difficult to say we have CSO backups.”
The recent disconnection from the CSO system was based on the Administrative Consent Order referenced by Allen.
Allen said one of the houses on Shawnee Road had sanitary backup that was coming out of their toilet.
“There is a video in my office, and that individual — we had her house smoke tested and she has all of her gutters into her sanitary lateral. There’s a yard drain into the sanitary lateral. Her neighbors have their gutters into the sanitary lateral,” Allen said.
He said that could account for the sewage coming out of her toilet.
“I just want to say there is no cover-up and people should not be fired, and the contractor should not be sued,” Allen said. “I personally went out and went door to door that evening. I went to people’s houses. I didn’t see sewage in those houses.”
Allen said one of the questions the EPA asked was how to confirm that there wasn’t sewage in people’s houses.
“In reverse of that question, I ask, how do you confirm that there was sewage in those houses?” Allen asked, looking toward Murray sitting in the public sitting area. “Obviously we will not stop until we feel we have done everything that we can do for the citizens of this community. I categorically deny the accusations the accusations that were made in this e-mail that was sent to the U.S. EPA.”
Allen said what needs to happen in the area where people had flooding problems during the heavy rainfall is that their gutters, downspouts, sump pumps and yard drains need to be disconnected from the sanitary sewer system.
“Until that happens there is no way to protect those houses,” Allen said. “The house that has sewage backing up could have been from its own gutters. So we are looking at that and we’re going to look at how we can help people.”
Second Ward Councilman Rich Saddler mentioned that the city requested people in that area disconnect from the sanitary sewer system a year-and-a-half ago, and Allen said the move was not mandatory.
City Solicitor John Haas said he was involved in the conference with the EPA and they appeared to be satisfied with the city’s answers to the questions brought by the email they received from Murray. He said he also responded to that area during the flooding and when Portsmouth police officers cleared debris from in front of the drains the water drained immediately.
First Ward Councilman Kevin W. Johnson suggested council hold a meeting in the Grandview Avenue area, possibly at Christ’s Community Church.
“We have not had a public hearing out in that neighborhood in five years,” Kevin W. Johnson said. “We had some public hearings prior to the construction. We have not had a follow-up by this Council. I think it’s time we went back out there and listened to the people who live in that area to get their feedback as to what they have seen since the construction was completed.”
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.