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Delco sewer inspection proposal riles Realtors

Published Friday, August 2, 2013
by Alan J. Heavens, Inquirer Real Estate Writer

A group representing suburban real estate agents and brokers says a proposal in eastern Delaware County for inspection and repair of sewer laterals as a condition of a home sale would make transactions more complicated and expensive.

While the Malvern-based Suburban Realtors Alliance understands the situation facing the Delaware County Regional Water Quality Control Authority, the Realtor group's president and CEO, Jamie Ridge, said, the draft ordinance would violate Pennsylvania law by delaying real estate transactions indefinitely to correct building-code infractions.

The authority's executive director, Joseph Salvucci, said what was proposed in the model ordinance was "no different than a home inspection."

Salvucci said that the intrusion of groundwater into aging and deteriorating laterals - the pipes that bring waste from homes to sewer lines in the streets - was adding unnecessarily to treatment costs and that this translated into higher sewer rates for homeowners throughout the county.

Salvucci said he estimated that such infiltration accounted for one-third of the flow in the authority's sewage conveyance system in the eastern part of the county.

If enough rainwater and groundwater infiltrates the sewer system, compromising its ability to transport waste for treatment, there can be overflows into streams and basements, opening up the sewer authorities to penalties for violating the Clean Water Act, he said.

If this happens regularly, a municipality may be required to expand a treatment plant or build a new one, at considerable expense to taxpayers.

The municipalities in the eastern part of the county contract with the authority for sewage treatment. The sewage is treated at Philadelphia's Southwest Water Control Plant, with which the authority in April renewed its contract for 15 more years.

This model ordinance calls for either adoption and implementation by each municipality of an ordinance requiring the inspection and repair or replacement of a lateral at the time of sale, or a program to reduce groundwater infiltration into sewer systems.

The Realtors group suggested that instead of waiting until the time of sale to inspect and repair the laterals, the authority's draft proposal should recommend that each of the municipalities begin a comprehensive inspection and repair program.

"Because such a small percentage of homes are sold each year in Southeastern Pennsylvania - typically 1 to 2 percent per year in any given municipality - it would take approximately 30 to 60 years to complete an inspection, and potential repair, of all sewer laterals" in the authority's area, Ridge said.

"Why would anyone seek a 30- to 60-year solution to such an immediate economic and environmental concern in Delaware County?"

Noelle Barbone, office manager for Weichert Realtors in Media, said that with "required township inspections, the cost for the seller of a home increases dramatically."

"We are one of the most expensive states when it comes to cost of buying and selling real estate," Barbone said. "Townships are out of control."

Harris Gross of Cherry Hill, a licensed engineer who owns a home-inspection firm that operates in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, said he shuddered at the thought of such a sale requirement.

"The sale process is difficult and comprehensive enough," he said. "If anything, I would think an approach that required lateral inspection would be based on the age of the drain pipe as opposed to a blanket approach."

Since the municipalities, and not individual homeowners, contract for sewage treatment, Salvucci said, privacy issues would be involved if the authority embarked on such a program.

Gross emphasized the options the model ordinance provided to municipalities to resolve the situation.

Middletown Township, which contracts with the authority for sewage treatment at a per-gallon rate, has a program requiring property owners to complete a sewer-and-drain inspection report when they sell their homes.

The township's sewer authority told Ridge in a letter that its proposed ordinance was an extension of that program, involving neighborhoodwide inspections that did not include the inside of the home.

The authority "will be incurring all costs associated with the televising and inspection of individual laterals at the required point of sale inspection," it said.

The goal is to inspect 300 to 400 laterals annually, the Middletown authority told Ridge in its letter.

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