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The Search For Answers As Failed Dye Tests Leave Homeowners High And Dry

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

Andy Sheehan Andy Sheehan
KDKA-TV Investigator Andy Sheehan began his broadcast journalism...
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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Every time it rains, raw sewage overflows into our rivers and streams – and the federal government is mandating a multi-billion dollar fix to our sewer systems.

That means your sewage bills are going up.

But for thousands of other properties, the consent decree will cost a whole lot more, upwards of $10- to $20,000.

KD Investigator Andy Sheehan has been searching for a solution for many who say they’re walking away from their homes.

Denis Calabria had an agreement to sell a duplex in Beechview for $50,000. But the sale got nixed the week before closing, when he learned he failed a dye test.

“They want me to dig up the side and street and tap into the sanitary sewer,” he said. “It’s going to cost me at least $15,000.”

And he’s not alone. Just about every other house on Wenzell Court failed. About 4,000 properties citywide and thousands more throughout the county need updates. Property owners like Calabria are stuck.

“Time has come that I’m going to have to put the house up for sale,” said a neighbor. “And then I’m going to get stuck with paying a plumber $15,000 — $12,000 for the right to sell the house.”

That’s because the first test showed that their downspouts drain into the sanitary sewer instead of the storm sewer. Consent decree from the Environmental Protection Agency says when it rains, the storm water overburdens the sanitary sewer and raw sewage overflows into our rivers.

It’s something these homeowners had no knowledge of when they bought their homes decades ago.

“No, it’s not fair,” the homeowner said. “If the EPA wants this done, let them pay for it.”

“We’re not in favor of bankrupting people or throwing people out of their homes,” said James Good with the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority.

The Water and Sewer Authority is proposing grants for the financially strapped and low interest loans for others, but State Sen. Wayne Fontana says it does not go far enough.

“These folks don’t want to take out a loan,” he said. “A lot of these folks want to move on with life. They don’t need another loan.”

Fontana says affected homes should be able to put in far less expensive green solutions to trap the rain water, but homeowners are thwarted by a bureaucratic maze. The county health department — one of four agencies enforcing consent decree – said Calabria’s French drain was not sufficient enough.”

“I was willing to put two rain barrels back here to catch the discharge and they still refused,” he said.

“Cause they keep pointing fingers at each other,” Fontana added. “It’s PWSA’s fault, no, it’s Allegheny County’s fault. Not it’s consent order’s fault. We’re running around in circles.”

Fontana says all the agencies need to come together and help these homeowners.

“And they need to hurry up, because folks are getting nailed at closing with these big, big plumbing bills,” Fontana said.

Whether that happens remains to be seen, but we’ll continue to follow the plight of these homeowners until a solution is found.

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