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Baltimore County awards nearly $1.5 million contract to build relief sewer in Academy Heights

Baltimore County has awarded a nearly $1.5 million contract for construction of a relief sewer in the Academy Heights neighborhood of Catonsville.

The relief sewer will replace existing 8-inch lines with 12- and 15-inch PVC piping in the areas around Stratford Road, Edmondson Avenue and Overbrook Road.

The project, awarded to Columbia-based Peak Inc., a prequalified contractor, will “roughly double” the system’s capacity, David Bayer, of Baltimore County’s Sewer Design Section, said during an Aug. 15 meeting of the Academy Heights Civic Association.

In addressing a frequent question during the meeting — why not just use bigger pipes that are 18 inches or more in diameter? — Kenneth Green, the county project manager who will oversee the Academy Heights work, said using bigger pipes and adding even more capacity would just push the problem downhill.

Because the sewage lines in Academy Heights attach to narrower sewage lines near the Baltimore City line, adding too much capacity to the system in Academy Heights would create “massive flooding” if a backup occurred where the systems connect, Green said.

Green and Bayer said it was unlikely the contractors would need to shut off water for more than a “couple hours.” Work is scheduled to begin in late October or early November and take a little more than a year to complete.

Residents in Academy Heights have long had concerns with sewage backups in their basements. In 2011, the concerns led the county to line the existing, 60-year-old pipes with new material to repair cracks and prevent the infiltration of groundwater into the sewer system.

“We’re feeling OK,” said Joe Shinault, president of the Academy Heights Civic Association. “At least we know [now] the county has a plan.”

However, some in the community and in local government believe there is more the county could do to prevent the sewer system from becoming overwhelmed.

Chris Burk, a licensed engineer, has lived in the neighborhood for about eight years and thinks the county should be helping homeowners by addressing sewage laterals.

Many of the homes in Academy Heights were built around 60 years ago and have sewage laterals, which connect individual homes to the larger sewage systems, that are damaged, cracked or broken.

When it storms, the ground becomes saturated with water, which can then infiltrate sewage laterals and overwhelm the system with too much water, causing sewage backups.

Sewage laterals are private property, however, so the county cannot replace them as an infrastructure project. The average cost for replacing a sewage lateral is around $2,500, according to Home Advisor.

Burk said he wants to see a county program that would replace sewage laterals in Academy Heights and then bill homeowners on their property tax bill over a period of 20 to 30 years.

“I’m not saying the county should pay for it,” Burk said. “But if there can be some type of assistance through a low-interest loan, spread out over a course of time, that can ease the burden on the property owner and also address the issue.”

County Councilman Tom Quirk, who represents the Catonsville area including Academy Heights and who attended the meeting, said he understands the community’s frustration.

“I think something we really need to consider in the county is having some type of program where areas most affected by these storms have some type of program where they can add the cost onto their property taxes over 20 years or 30 years,” Quirk said.

He said he was unsure whether such a program could be administrative or require legislative action.

“I would not only support, I would spearhead it,” he said of any possible legislative action.

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