Cheltenham Postpones $80M Sewer Overhaul

Debra Domsky, of Cheltenham, sitting in her yard on Woodland Avenue, Tuesday, May 24, 2016. Domsky is one of numerous residents raising concerns about the township's massive sewer problems. Brian X. McCrone/NBC10

Cheltenham Township has withdrawn a proposal to begin a decade-long overhaul of its 90-year-old sewer system, and is instead "exploring other potential approaches to addressing the problem of defects in sewer mains and laterals."

A June 8 hearing on legislation that would have set in motion inspections of all 15,000 township properties' privately owned sewer laterals -- pipes connecting homes and businesses to the public sewer system -- was postponed indefinitely, the township said in a statement posted to its website.

The move comes a week after NBC10 reported that property owners face the prospect of spending up to $10,000 each to replace the laterals. The township has said many property owners, particularly in the township's older neighborhoods, would likely have to replace their laterals after inspectors began going door-to-door.

The state Department of Environmental Protection has ordered Cheltenham to undertake the expensive remedy of its antiquated sewer system, which perpetually is at risk of sewer overflow.

"At best, such stormwater unnecessarily inflates sewage treatment costs; at worst, it may overwhelm the system, causing sewage to backup into homes and businesses or out of manholes," the township statement said.

Shelving the ordinance does not mean the township is off the hook.

"The Township continues to receive significant pressure from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to address defects in sewer laterals, which DEP believes is a significant cause of stormwater entering the system," the statement said.

Township Manager Bryan Havir was unavailable for comment Friday afternoon.

In an interview two weeks ago, Havir said that the sewer I&I (inflow and infiltration) problem did not pop up suddenly. Instead, he said, the township has already spent millions over the better half of the last decade to improve system-wide performance.

"This has been in our corrective action plan since 2010," Havir said. "And the DEP is now asking we move this up under high priority. Basically telling us, we’re five years behind schedule."

The township is now considering two other options.

"Under consideration is an ordinance that requires a sewer lateral inspection and repair when a property is sold or transferred. Another possibility is proceeding with an inspection and repair of the sewer mains this fall under the currently proposed ordinance but deferring any action required of property owners to make repairs of defects in sewer laterals until next spring."