Sinking Holme Circle street attributed to bad laterals, vents

Residents of the 3000 and 3100 blocks of Fairfield Street were upset and skeptical after Water Department officials revealed results of pipe study.

Philadelphia Water Commissioner Randy Hayman, right, and Mark Waas, the department’s manager of field operations, attended a special meeting Wednesday to address issues on Fairfield Street. JACK TOMCZUK / TIMES PHOTO

Sixty percent of homeowners living on a two-block stretch in Holme Circle where the sidewalk has been sinking will be required to pay to replace their property’s water laterals or air vents.

That’s the news Philadelphia Water Department officials delivered at a contentious community meeting Wednesday night at the Torresdale Library. Residents of the 3000 and 3100 blocks of Fairfield Street were angry and skeptical.

Many will be on the hook for thousands of dollars in repairs. 

“I’m trying to stay in the city, and you guys are making it so damn hard,” said a woman who lives on the 3100 block. “I want to put my house up and flee. I’m over it.”

Neighbors have complained about deteriorating conditions on the street, including large holes and cracks in the sidewalk, for years, as reported by the Northeast Times in June.

Large cracks and holes dot the pavement on the 3000 and 3100 blocks of Fairfield Street in Holme Circle. TIMES FILE PHOTO

PWD representatives on Wednesday presented their findings from an investigation of the blocks conducted in May. Officials said they did an extensive study of the area that included dye-testing and looking at historic aerial photographs.

The department found no major problems with the sewer system, or “main,” but discovered issues with the laterals, which connect homes to the main sewer, and the air vents, also called traps.

In total, 48 out of the 80 homes on the two blocks were affected by lateral and/or vent problems. The investigation revealed 72 defective curb vents and 21 damaged laterals. Each home has two laterals and vents — one for the storm sewer and the other for the sanitary sewer.

More than 40 properties had more than one defect, officials said.

“The bottom line is that, legally, the utility’s responsible for the main,” Water Commissioner Randy Hayman said at the meeting. “The laterals are the homeowner’s responsibility.”

“The number is high, I admit,” he added. “The number is high.”

Joanne Dahme, the department’s public affairs manager, said officials believe there could be a “cascading effect,” where problems with one home cause issues for the adjacent properties. 

The pipe system on Fairfield Street was installed in 1954, and no historical streams ran through the area, officials said. 

Dahme said Wednesday that Notice of Defect letters would be sent out “over the next few days” to people with damaged pipes. Then, homeowners will have a certain amount of time to hire plumbers to fix the issues. 

“The Water Department is going to pay for a smaller number of laterals because we did have some minor infiltration in parts of our sewer system,” Dahme said. 

PWD offers a no-interest loan program for repairs. The department assigns a plumber and allows the customer to pay for it over a five-year period.

Some neighbors, including Nicole Figueroa, said they have previously used the program, called the HELP Loan, and found the work to be subpar. Officials said all work completed under the program is inspected by PWD. 

Fairfield Street neighbors also questioned whether underlying issues with the sewer system or environmental conditions were causing the problems. 

Holme Circle Civic Association President Michael Fagan, who lives on the 3000 block, said the street has had sinking issues for more than 10 years.

“We want to see where the city’s leaks were,” said Fagan, referring to the “minor infiltration” mentioned by Dahme. 

PWD representatives stressed that the investigation revealed that the sewers were in “good shape,” and the department would fix any problems that arose in the water mains.

“There’s a disconnect in not thinking we would take on that responsibility,” Hayman said. “We would, but our funding is limited on how we can use it. We cannot use it on individual laterals.”

Former Philadelphia Water Department employee John DiGiulio speaks to Holme Circle residents Wednesday during a special meeting to address issues on Fairfield Street. DiGiulio recently left the department but spoke at the meeting because he has been heavily involved in addressing problems on the street. JACK TOMCZUK / TIMES PHOTO

There was also concern that the street would begin collapsing again, even if many of the homeowners paid to repair the laterals. 

After the meeting, Fagan said the civic association plans to request more information on the investigation, including any defects in the main sewer. 

Some residents wanted to see a list or map of all the properties with defects. PWD representatives declined, citing the privacy of property owners, but did tell people individually after the meeting whether their home was affected. 

Representatives from Sixth District Councilman Bobby Henon’s office said they will help coordinate the effort to stabilize the blocks. 

Henon said in a statement that the overwhelming majority of the Fairfield Street residents have signed up for the pipe protection insurance plan offered by American Water Resources through the Philadelphia Energy Authority.

PWD representatives and Henon’s office said the plan should cover the repairs if the homeowner has been enrolled for at least a month. ••