Bloop. Bloop. Bloop.
The sound has many Hammond District 3 residents rattled with fear over another raw sewage leak in their homes. It happened again during Hurricane Ida.
The city has budgeted a $4.2 million investment in its sewer system upgrades this year, much of which focus on District 3. Federal recovery funds are being used along with the city funds.
Meanwhile, residents continue seeking answers from their council members, the mayor and sewer department leaders. They wonder how this long-festering problem got so bad. Several months after the sewage leaks were brought to the city’s attention, questions remain as to who is responsible for damages and the health hazards.
Mayor Pete Panepinto, at the city council meeting Tuesday, stressed that the process has started and things are happening now, including identifying the sewer force main that the city will soon try to bypass.
City Director of Administration Lacy Landrum thanked the city council for appropriating the money to fix the sewer system.
“This is a long process for the system that has been broken a long time; it’s not something that just happened,” she said. “It is something that has been fixed piecemeal over many years. It took a long time to reach a compromise over how the money would be managed.”
Not only one
Robin Glasper-Chapman, a retired teacher living on Mississippi Street for 28 years, had sewage back up last summer into her home. She thought she did something wrong, so she hired a professional plumber and paid over $600 to clean out her lines and the washout in front of her yard.
Even after that, she still heard the “bloop” “bloop” “bloop” noise from her toilet during heavy rains.
The home had just been remodeled. New furniture has since been destroyed by the sewage overflow.
Chapman and others have spoken up at various council meetings about the problems.
“I would like for the city to be accountable and try to assist not just me but all of the families that lost due to that sewage backup. I would also like to know that they are doing something to eliminate this problem so it won’t happen again,” Chapman said.
“All I ask is they be accountable,” she said. “I have to fix my house. My biggest fear is I invest more money in my home, get my house back in order and another hurricane or heavy rain comes and it happens again. I am a home owner, not a renter, so the upkeep of my house is my responsibility.”
Her responsibility is what Siltanese McCraney-Montgomery, also of District 3, was told when she reported her issues to the city’s insurance company. She was seeking reimbursement for restoring her Mooney Avenue home after raw sewage backup.
On Sept. 16, Sedgwick Claims Management Services notified Montgomery, on behalf of the city’s insurance company Travelers Indemnity Company of Connecticut, that her claim from Jan. 16 had been denied.
A work order cited on the denial letter claimed the sewer was clogged. It said workers checked the sewer main, which was down, and the customer needed a plumber.
A second work order, from March 27, said a problem was found when the sewer was checked but it was not in the city lines. The statement speculated the problem could be grease or something flushed in the toilet. The line in the yard was empty and the problem was inside or under the house. There was no cleanout, and the pipe was down. It was not a city problem.
Montgomery asked how grease in her pipes was to blame when all her neighbors are in the same predicament.
Andrea Dangerfield is the latest generation to live at 301 Mississippi St., property in her family for over 80 years.
“301 Mississippi is not some piece of land that is disposable,” Dangerfield said. “It is a testament to hard work and family pride. It belonged to our family during segregation, and it will belong to this family until this world turns to dust.”
Her family has faced many battles there, she said, but the sewer problem has been and remains a major issue.
“My parents who are now deceased battled this problem for well over 20 years,” she said. “At the briefest rain, the toilets would not flush and it (sewage) would back up into the tub.”
Thinking the problem was the canal beside the house, Dangerfield’s parents consulted plumbers. They installed cleanouts, new PVC pipes and toilets to try to combat the problem. In 2008, the toilet and tub spewed a steady flow of sewage throughout three bedrooms, covering the floors.
“My family was told that a valve or some type of apparatus should have been in place to prevent a backup of sewage into the home and was compensated for their loss,” she said. “At the time, we assumed this issue was an isolated incident. Initially, the problem seemed to resolve itself. However, over time the issues of the past began to resurface.”
Over the years, Dangerfield’s family has rented commercial drain augers and the clean-out cap has been repaired and replaced several times.
“Complaining to the city had done little to resolve the dilemma, and we’d just settled in our minds that we’d have to make the effort ourselves,” she said. “Little did we know that the entire district had been and still battled this issue. If Councilman Wells hadn’t put an emphasis on the problem, I doubt anyone would have made any effort to address it. District 3 is a part of the City of Hammond. It’s just as important as the self-proclaimed ‘heart of Hammond.’
“People who have contributed to the growth of Hammond live here,” she said. “We deserve sewage-free streets and homes just as much as someone living near Southeastern or Downtown.”
City sewer and water department officials brought to Tuesday’s Hammond City Council meeting an annual report about the wastewater treatment plant.
The report contained information about the wastewater treatment plant between July 1, 2020, and June 30, 2021. Required by the state department of environmental quality, the report must be turned in by Oct. 1 or else result in a fine.
According to the annual Municipal Water Pollution Prevention report, prepared by lab manager Nathan Levy, the wastewater treatment plant scored 128 of 560. The lower the score, the better.
Levy said the plant operations were within limits, but there were some high numbers largely due to rainfall overloading the plant.
“A big challenge was a record number of overflows reported because of all the rain that came,” he said. “The good news is the plant did not have any reason to discharge raw waste at all. They were able to keep it all contained.”
The report also included an interview with Supervisor Guy Palermo, Chief Operator Vernon Banks and his assistant and a lab person, relating the improvements made over the past 12 months as well as plans for the next 12 months.
District 3 Councilman Devon Wells asked why the report did not include information about the overflows into people’s homes.
Palermo said that information is in actuary reports and is turned over to the Human Resources Department to handle.
Mayor Panepinto asked Councilman Wells to fight with the city administration, instead of against them.
The city council approved the report with Councilman Wells voting against it.