"I need to get out of the office more often" were some of the first words I heard Mark Waas say when he visited our street on November 27, 2017. Mr. Waas is the Chief Water Transport Engineer for the Philadelphia Water Department.
Like most members of the PWD leadership team, he can be tough to find. No profile on the Phila.gov website, no updated social media. I guess the place to reach him is at his office.
Mark visited our street along with Joanne Dahme, General Manager of Public Affairs at PWD, and Councilman Mark Squilla. Our street is sinking lower each year, making the curbs higher and the street impassable. Even trash trucks are getting stuck (video of tractor towing a trash truck from our street HERE).
The PWD conducted dye tests to identify the cause of our sinking street. These tests are designed to identify broken sewer laterals. Broken laterals are the responsibility of homeowners. If one is found, it means the PWD can issue a Notice of Defect, threaten to shut off your water, and...walk away (or sometimes "hammer you").
The initial report from Mark's crew: two broken laterals. But even Mark and PWD had to admit that pinning the cause of our sinking street on two broken laterals was impossible. Two broken laterals would not make the whole street sink.
As Mark toured the street, we all agreed that the PWD's tests were incomplete. There was something bigger going on with our street. Further tests were ordered: more dye tests.
The results were predictable: 4 more broken laterals. Combined with previously identified broken laterals, this brought our block's total to 12 broken laterals. PWD was essentially telling us that 40% of the laterals on our block were broken.
It doesn't take an engineer to know that if 40% of anything is broken, something systemic is to blame. If 40% of airbags don't go off in car crashes, you don't blame the drivers. You blame the airbags. A recall is issued and the manufacturer takes responsibility.
The same is true with our street. The broken sewer laterals are most likely the symptom of a poorly back-filled street. But the Water Department doesn't care. There will be no recall, even though they have the resources: $200M in the bank.
Why? Because They want to put the financial responsibility on homeowners and walk away.
Almost a year later our laterals are fixed. Paid for by homeowners, but our street is still sinking...and dangerous.
The last response from Mark Waas?
"Your notice still stands and we are expecting you to initiate repairs."