Sinkholes and Sewer Laterals Addressed in New Partnership Agreement

SD1 Will Cover Cost of Exploratory for Sewer Lateral Damage in New Program

COVINGTON - SD1 has included funding in their 2015 Fiscal Year Budget to assist communities in identifying defective laterals under public roadways that connect the home or business to the public sewer system and are causing noticeable damage to the roadway above.

The SD1 Board of Directors and the Boone, Campbell and Kenton County Judges Executive approved a policy change at their June meeting and included funding in FY 15 budget for this service, that will result inmore assistance to citizens whose properties are affected by sewer lateral damage, an issue most easily identified by a nearby sinkhole in the abutting right of way.

Under the new policy, SD1 will perform the exploratory investigation necessary to confirm whether a private property is suffering from sewer lateral damage. SD1 will also cover all associated costs of the exploration.

Prior to the policy change, the property owner was responsible for the exploration, an estimated cost of approximately $200-300.

If sewer lateral damage is confirmed, the property owner is still responsible for fixing it. Average costs for repair has fallen between $3,000 and as high as $10,000.The cost burden is a reality many municipalities are facing across the country with its aging infrastructure, especially those within urban environments.

As a way to ease the cost burden on property owners hit by this surprise, Covington has introduced the Homeowner Repair Program. The program offers property ownersa grant of up to $5,000 to address identified sewer lateral damage. The City of Covington is also taking care of all of the necessary roadway restoration once the lateral has been repaired. This includes backfilling the excavated area and the installation of new asphalt which ends up being a significant savings to the property owner.

While this is a step in the right direction, the cost to the homeowner is still significant.

"With very limited resources, we are doing what we can to ease the burden on our residents" said Mike Yeager, Covington City Engineer.

Currently, Covington has 38 open cases of sewer lateral damage throughout the city. City Engineer Mike Yeager estimates this number will increase at an increasing rate as the infrastructure, already over a hundred years old, continues to decay.

Sewer main and lateral maintenance and repair costs have skyrocketed throughout the country. Some governments have passed State bills that mandate coverage, while others mandate that sewer lateral inspections are performed upon resale of property.

Both the City and SD1 are addressing the problem with as much resources as are currently available.They are also looking for bigger solutions.

Other Northern Kentucky River cities are experiencing a similar number of cases that Covington has seen, approximately 1 case every two weeks.

"And these are just the cases of lateral issues that have resulted in roadway sinkholes; it says nothing of the countless other issues that might exist underground with cracks and leaks, which could go operational for a long time. It's very important that citizens try to do what they can to take care of their laterals" said Yeager.

The budget issues that SD1 are now facing has resulted in many cuts over the last year.

For several years, SD1 funded all the steps of lateral repair when it resulted in a sinkhole in the street. In July 2013, funding for this service went away and the entire cost burden fell on the property owner.

The City responded to this change in service by offering to cover the road restoration portion of the fix, but there was still a process gap in determining where the lateral was broken due to the City not having the proper equipment. The City also offered reimbursement to the property owner for the initial exploration costs if a lateral issue was not present. The Community Services Department, managed by Yeager, would issue a notice informing the property owner that they may have sewer lateral damage that required further inspection. The Community Services Department was also tasked with making sure the property owners complied with the letter.

In June 2014, City Commission passed an Order Resolution that addressed the proposed SD1 rate increase. The Resolution strongly encouraged the SD1 Board of Directors to "direct any [rate increases] to address the protection of public health, safety and property for current ratepayers of SD1 over projects that fund expansion of the system to serve new development,and to restore the private lateral program".

The City is happy to see that SD1 has allocated some money in this year's budget to perform the explorations and definitively determine the location of broken laterals.

City Manager Larry Klein said, "When the SD1 board and three County Judges who approved their annual budget met back in June, all three County judges were supportive of restoring the entire program to 2013 levels not just the current level where SD1 determines whose lateral is broken. We are hoping that next year the SD1 Board of Directors and three County judges fully restore this important service to its ratepayers."

The new policy involves SD1 performing the exploratory as part of the process of repairing identified sinkholes. When the initial repairs are being done on the street, SD1 will leave door hangers on the abutting properties asking the owner to get in touch to make an appointment with them. Once an appointment is set, SD1 will perform a dye test to see if the sewer lateral has been damaged. If damage is identified, the property owner will have the obligation of making the repairs to the sewer lateral and will also incur the cost of repairing the road.

"The key", Yeager said, "is making sure the property owners respond immediately to schedule the follow up inspection with SD1 so the problem can be verified before more damage is caused, which becomes more expensive for everyone".

Covington Code of Ordinance, Chapter 50.1, States:

"The city shall be responsible for the main collector system of the public sewer system that is not the responsibility of Sanitation District No. 1 of Kenton and Campbell Counties."

"The private property owner shall be responsible for the sewer lateral from its connection to the main collector system to and including the sewer system within the private property improvement."

"The city is not responsible for maintenance or cleaning of the sewer lateral between the private property and the main collector system. The main collectors of the public sewer system do not include any laterals even though the laterals are located under the public right-of-way."

Maintenance is the Property Owner's Responsibility

It is property owner's responsibility to maintain sewer laterals. Proper maintenance includes keeping the lateral clean and clear of any obstruction, such as roots, grease and debris. The level, type, frequency of maintenance required is highly dependent on the age and type of lateral (e.g. Plastic vs. cast iron) and the practices of the building occupants. Older laterals of concrete, clay or cast iron may have root intrusion or deteriorated sections and require regular inspection and/or more frequent cleaning.

Minimizing Lateral Problems

Drainage problems are commonly caused by obstruction of blockage in the lateral. You can minimize or eliminate such problems by being careful of what you dispose of in your drains and garbage disposals and what you flush down the toilet. Fats, oils, Grease (FOG) can clog laterals and eventually block the sewer mains.

If a Problem Occurs

If your drain starts to run slowly, there's a good chance you have some sort of obstruction in your lateral. A licensed plumber or drain-cleaning specialist should be able to clear the obstruction. If the lateral is broken, you will have to repair the lateral. In general, problems with your lateral are you responsibility as the property owner.

Learn more about SD1's Sewer Lateral Identification Program here.


CORRECTION 8/26/2014: A previous version of the release said that SD1 covered the cost of the road repair when a broken sewer lateral was identified. this is not true. If damage is identified, the property owner will have the obligation of making the repairs to the sewer lateral and will also incur the cost of repairing the road.