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Greenfield mayor blasts private pipe projects

By Sean Ryan

Greenfield’s mayor is fighting a regional push to disconnect drainpipes from the foundations of old homes.

Hundreds of homes in the city would require pipe disconnections, Mayor Michael Neitzke said. Those homes are on private property, the lateral connections to sewers were legal when they were installed and such an undertaking would sink a city’s budget, he said.

“In order to do that, you have to tear up the street we just put in,” Neitzke said. “You have to tear up everybody’s yard. You have to tear up everything.”

But the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District is encouraging, though not requiring, communities reduce infiltration and inflow, which is clean water that leaks into sewers during heavy rain. The sources of those leaks include laterals and foundation drains in older houses that connect to sanitary sewers.

Those leaks, said Bill Graffin, MMSD spokesman, are a source of district overflows.

“A lot of that water doesn’t need to be in the sanitary sewer system,” he said.

Neitzke said the district should urge municipalities to fix public pipes and stop leaks from manholes, but MMSD has no business going after cities over water from foundation drains. The state banned sewer connections for foundation drains more than 50 years ago, he said, but communities such as Greenfield have older houses that are still linked to sewers.

Specifically, the district is asking Greenfield to reduce leaks in the Mitchell Heights neighborhood, Neitzke said, but the only sources of leaks in that neighborhood are on private properties. The city in 2005 and 2006 relined the area’s sewers and rebuilt roads because of flooding problems, he said.

“After we relined the entire neighborhood,” he said, “there was no significant reduction in inflow.”

As Neitzke frets over the public cost of replacing private pipes, the village of Fox Point is taking a different approach. The village for 30 years has required homebuyers disconnect foundation drains from sewers when buying, said Village Manager Susan Robertson.

But the Village Board is drafting a law to require the disconnections regardless of whether a house is for sale.

“We’ve taken care of our manholes and had a pretty active rehabilitation program for our sewer lines,” Robertson said, “so now we’re taking the next step.”

The law, which the board will consider June 8, would give property owners a grace period to disconnect their drains, Robertson said. The ordinance makes landowners pay the disconnection costs because the existing law demands it and because the costs vary from property to property, she said. Robertson said village officials are considering pursuing MMSD grants for the work.

The district will dedicate $1 million a year between 2010 and 2015 for municipalities to target water leaks on private property, Graffin said.

“We still need to address the system as a whole,” he said of public and private pipes. “That’s why we need to work together to come up with the most cost-effective solutions.”

Neitzke said $5 million is a drop in the bucket, considering the number of old houses in the MMSD service area that must be disconnected. He said there are hundreds of houses in the Mitchell Heights district, but he does not know the cost of disconnecting their foundation drains.

“We just spent $5 to $6 million on a neighborhood,” Neitzke said of the sewer relining project. “We didn’t have to do anything about it then. I’m not going to dig up a new neighborhood to put in new laterals.”

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