Documents uncovered by the NBC 10 Investigators show Cheltenham Township officials knew about devastating sewer problems years before homeowners were told the problems might cost them thousands of dollars.
The township now faces years of expensive repairs that township commissioners say could reach $70 million. According to Commissioner Ann Rappoport, homeowners may be forced to pay up to $10,000 each to reconnect to the repaired sewer system.
Since at least 2000, state Department of Environmental Protection records show, the Tookany Creek has absorbed repeated sewer overflows in Cheltenham. In 2006, the DEP fined the township more than $27,000 for failing to report "approximately 52" sewer overflows.
In 2014, the township was fined $280,000. It was fined $13,000 in 2015. Both fines were issued for failing to follow state environmental code.
"They didn't report it. They got fined," Cheltenham township resident Laureen Katana said. "More tax dollars. Probably tax dollars we could have used to address the problem."
"Clearly the the evidence speaks for itself," sewer engineering consultant Russell McIntosh said. "There are problems that could have and should have been addressed at a much earlier time."
Cheltenham Township records show that as early as 1997 the state "issued a moratorium on new sewer connections." McIntosh said that is a clear sign something is significantly wrong.
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"This has been going on for a really long time," he said. "There are a lot of failures and some of the failures when you read through their report could have and should have been identified years ago."
Township officials blame their sewer overflows on damage from record flooding in 2010 and 2011.
"There is a problem now and we're working to actively correct that," Cheltenham Township Manager Bryan Havir said.
Between 1998 and 2010, the township spent $6 million repairing its sewer system, records show.
Commissioner Morton Simon said no matter what the township did or didn't do in the past, replacing the township's 80-year-old sewers was inevitable.
“What we’re going through today is something that I believe we would have had to go through at some point in time," Simon said.