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Officials at the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County are working on a solution to sewer backups that have repeatedly flooded the basements of several White Oak homeowners.
John Palyo, borough manager, said the problem in the area of Vermont and Ohio avenues is particularly acute during wet weather and following heavy rainstorms.
White Oak sold its sewer lines to the Westmoreland authority --- which also provides water to McKeesport, Port Vue, White Oak and several neighboring Allegheny County communities --- several years ago, Palyo said.
And although Pennsylvania American Water Co. now owns the McKeesport sewage treatment plant, Gary Lobaugh, a spokesman for the water company, said it only treats White Oak's wastewater --- it doesn't maintain the underground lines in the borough.
Sewer line maintenance in White Oak is the purview of the Westmoreland authority, where spokesman Matt Junker said technicians are working on a solution that will be acceptable to the Allegheny County Health Department.
At least six homeowners in the neighborhood have complained about sewer backups, Junker said, but preliminary engineering work by the authority indicates that only four homes have malfunctioning sewers.
In those four cases, Junker said, it appears that the lines from the homes to the sewer main don't flow downhill.
"They are, more or less, level with the wastewater main line, so they are going to require some kind of alteration," he said.
There have been rumors that the sewer backups are being caused by White Oak's connection to McKeesport's sewer system, or that leaks into the White Oak system are causing the flooding issues during storms.
The White Oak system does flow into the McKeesport system, Junker said, but the connection isn't the cause of the backups. Storm water leaking into the system also isn't the cause, he said.
In White Oak, the storm water system and the sanitary system are separate. In fact, Palyo said, before White Oak sold its sewer lines to the Westmoreland authority, every home and business in the borough was required to make sure that its gutters and outside drains were disconnected from the sanitary sewers.
"We had comprehensive testing of every single home, and that (separation) is something we've tried to maintain since then," Palyo said.
McKeesport's system is a combined sewer system, where both storm drains and sanitary sewers connect together. During heavy storms, there is a bigger load on the system, Junker said, and the sewers do drain more slowly.
But the problem for the Vermont and Ohio homeowners is caused by the fact that the sewers aren't flowing downhill properly, he said.
Junker said he could not speculate on when the Allegheny County Health Department would approve the authority's repair plans, but that MAWC is hopeful that work will begin soon.
Originally published May 09, 2018.