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Sewage problems crop up on Toytown Road in Croghan

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BEAVER FALLS — When Toytown Road residents Derrick R. Reynolds and Tasha M. Tehonica woke up one morning in November, they found their furnace under two feet of water. They didn’t know the cause and they didn’t expect what was to come in the months to follow — more water and, eventually, a 5-foot-deep sewage-filled sinkhole in their yard.

Multiple residents on the small loop of about a dozen houses also began experiencing flooded basements in November.

With the ground frozen, town of Croghan officials were unable to assess the source of the problem and residents were left to guess.

Some thought it was caused by old sewage pipes, left after a 2007 sewer project installed new pipes and exits, while others thought it was the new lines.

Some residents suspected groundwater, while others reported never having problems despite having higher water levels in the past.

They’ve also said flooding in basements was lower after the thaw.

Warren W. Shaw, the Croghan highway superintendent, said the town is looking into the cause of the problem.

“No one really knows right now,” he said.

“The layout of pipes underground may pose an issue, as well,” he said.

Town Supervisor Andrew A. Lehman said records are not entirely clear on where the pipes originally were placed when the homes were built.

Now that the ground has thawed, the town of Croghan is looking for answers with outside help.

Nichelle L. Billhardt, manager of the Lewis County Soil and Water Conservation District, said, “We have been out to Toytown Road to survey the area and create a potential surface drainage solution. There does appear to be significant water issues there, and we are looking into a solution to alleviate the drainage problem.”

Mr. Lehman said once the cause is determined, a solution can be figured out.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that different households have experienced different problems.

Mr. Reynolds’s flooding is coming from the old sewage pipes, but for Paula M. and Lionel P. Batuyong, whose backyard borders Mr. Reynolds’s backyard, the water is entering from a leak near the new pipe and much smaller in comparison.

“We hope, or think, it’s groundwater,” Mrs. Batuyong said.

Roger A. Waite has lived across the street from Mr. Reynolds for five years and never experienced what he dealt with this winter.

At one point under three feet of water, everything in his basement was ruined, while his furnace and water heater sustained damage.

Where’s the water entering his basement coming from?

“I’ll let you know when it gets low enough to tell,” Mr. Waite said.

Chris D. and Joyce J. Hodkinson said that in 18 years on Toytown Road, they never had a problem like they’ve seen this year.

Mrs. Hodkinson said natural springs run around their property, and while they’ve on occasion caused a frog pond to form outside, the basement has always been dry enough that they could store belongings in it.

A small gutter runs along the interior wall of the Hodkinsons’ basement, where it used to flow into the old sewage lines, which led to the Beaver River.

The new system does not feed the water in the new lines.

Their problems also began in the fall with a foot of water pouring in.

Their problems continue.

“We’ve been without heat and hot water since last Tuesday,” Mrs. Hodkinson said Monday.

After three submersions for the furnace, it gave out and required new parts.

Residents attended a town meeting in the winter, but were told nothing could be done until spring.

For Mr. Reynolds, who watched the water continue to enter from the old sewer pipe, that answer wasn’t satisfactory.

More than a decade ago, the state Department of Environmental Conservation discovered that 55 properties were discharging raw sewage into the Beaver River, which feeds into the Black River. That discovery prompted the installation of the new sewer system.

“The old sewage went right into the river. They should have removed or capped the pipes. The board told us they kept the old drain in there as a ‘courtesy,’” Mr. Reynolds said.

While DEC prompted the installation of the current sewer system, it does not take responsibility for the current problem.

”We’re not part of the solution,” said Stephen W. Litwhiler, DEC spokesman.

As for keeping the lines open to the river as a courtesy, Mr. Litwhiler said, “It’s not the best management practice, but it’s not a violation.”

Mr. Reynolds took matter into his own hands, pouring 400 pounds of concrete into the old pipe to remedy the situation.

Water, however, continues to fill the basement.

They lost many items, including props for Ms. Tehonica’s photography business.

The worst, for them, was yet to come.

“The ground thawed and I went to rake. I noticed two small holes by the grinder pump,” he said.

He stuck a pole into the ground and it easily sank two feet.

“I pressed harder and it went five and a half feet down,” he said.

He pulled out the pole.

“It smelled like sewer,” he said.

It appeared the increased water in the basement, which he fed back through the new sewer lines, was not going to the sewer treatment plant.

Somewhere underground in his yard, the pipes had broken and the high pressure from the grinder pump made the water erode the soil in his yard.

The town of Croghan fixed the pipes, but returned the contaminated soil to the yard.

Last week, an odor was still present.

“We can’t let the kids even walk across it,” he said.

The pump is still working overtime, as evidenced by the alarm that consistently buzzes once or twice an hour.

“I’m getting used to the noise, but the neighbors must hate it,” he said.

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