Maybe it’s in the Water?

We’ve come a long way in the roughly five years since I moved to this far-west outpost near the city’s edge. The freshly painted houses, new windows, added porches and even tiny landscaping projects that has transformed one small city block. We even have our own “private sewer.”

Since the day I moved in, neighbors would lament about the unkempt condition of the block. Despite efforts of residents to keep the block clean it was common during the summer to have grass and shrubs extend into the street. The privately-owned lot across the street that borders our homes had become an urban junkyard with trailers and tires on display. One of the byproducts of the overgrowth was how the debris magically disappeared beneath a canopy of green and gold by fall.

And every year the city would come along and pick-up tires and other debris off this private land and haul it away. It usually took half a day.

Over the years, we neighbors have come a long way towards cleaning up, painting and fixing to the point that it looks like a new block compared to five years ago. Neighbors were doubtful about having anything change and resigned themselves to the notion that nothing could be done about the slum-like conditions merely an eye shot away.

They also knew that I was a journalist and — separate from that — I had organized and presented a petition on behalf of the residents from around the other corner, which made up our little coalition of 2 blocks.

Over the years city officials have been responsive to my calls and the pictures I’ve sent detailing the problems as they occurred. With the enforcement of codes, the neighbors’ vigilance and presentation of these issues at Tomorrow’s Neighborhoods Today meetings, the block has taken on an entirely new look.

My immediate neighbors stopped calling City Line and began talking with me about their concerns. I would get on the phone and try to get something done, whether it was snow removal or trash pickup. Usually I was successful in getting something done, even though my neighbors had long given up even trying. Perhaps that crossed the line because who was I when I called? Was I a journalist or a concerned homeowner? Can I be both? Sometimes the line can be blurry, especially when your see trash blow by like tumbleweed reminiscent of the old western series, “Gunsmoke.”

There are only four houses here with sewers that run through our tiny back yards. When my corner neighbor called to report a problem with his sewer line he was told, “it’s a private sewer, you’re on your own. We don’t even have this mapped.”

And when he asked me, I told him, “yep, we’re on our own unless it’s something they can find at the street end clogging the system.” Five years ago when I bought the home I was informed prior to closing that the sewer situation was “weird.” However, whenever I called DPW’s sewer number the city tried everything within their reach to help.

One day my neighbor a few houses away said, “Ken, I want you to see something.” As I made my way to the scene I could see a hump had risen between the two houses and I was told that waste wasn’t leaving the house. My response was “call a plumber.” He’d already tried that and they could not help; they told him to call the city. When I returned later in the day I noticed that he’d dug up all the asphalt almost to the street.

“Ken, the guy on the truck told me to dig to the street and the city might run a line.”

I chuckled and said, “the sewer is 10 feet to the south of the pipe that exits your house, you’ve dug 20 feet in the opposite direction.”

After several hours a group from the block had dug up and located our “private” line. The sewer was exactly where I told him it would be. Now the entire driveway is torn up, but during the excavation it was discovered that the pipe was not connected to the sewer, perhaps for years. Raw waste has been running into the water table and dispersing into the ground below.

In the meantime, I have a leak in the basement and when it rains hard it looks like my walls are crying… I wonder what’s in that ground water? I hope it’s not the sewer, but that’s private.