Todd Price knew when he bought the house at 3701 Fairway Dr. in deCordova that it was a bit of a fixer-upper.
But he had no idea that he would be paying thousands to fix a sewer problem with a smell so overwhelming that his girlfriend, who was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, would be forced to take up residence with her parents. The stench, he said, exacerbated her nausea.
“All of my neighbors have complained repeatedly to AMUD (Acton Municipal Utility District), and they say there is nothing they can do,” said Price, who bought the house in December 2011. “Before I purchased my house, AMUD installed an inexpensive check valve on my and my neighbors’ houses, but they stick open and aren’t designed to stop vapors.”
Those gas vapors, which Price explained are heavier than air, would routinely fall around his front door and porch, which are lower than his yard. This meant that the house would oftentimes be filled with an overwhelming sewer smell.
Richard English, general manager of AMUD, said that Price’s home had “some venting issues” that were worsened by the low positioning of the house and “wind direction.”
“Those vapors go out the vents at the top of houses,” English said. “If there is any odor, typically the winds carry it away. He (Price) had maybe a unique situation with the way the vent was set up.”
English added: “We try to maintain our gravity system to be as good as it can be.”
Price said he solved the smell problem himself by spending more than $5,000 on a lift station.
The lift station was about $2,600, but there were labor charges and other expenses that hiked the cost to more than $5,000. Price said he could have bought a less expensive lift station, but AMUD wouldn’t allow it.
English acknowledged that AMUD does require that lift stations be purchased through them, but he explained why.
“We maintain those lift stations,” he said. “If he (Price) has a problem with it, we come out and fix it at no cost. If he had bought it from someone else, we wouldn’t touch it. One phone call, and we’re there. We’ll take care of it.”
Price said that the foul smell around his house was gone within a half hour of the lift station becoming operational. But, just as he had predicted in an email to English last summer, it didn’t totally solve the problem.
“Now the smell comes out of my neighbors’ vents and the manhole covers in the street,” he said. “AMUD has even tried to plug the manhole covers, but the smell still gets through.”
Price said that there was a strong sewer smell in the neighborhood last Saturday.
Price said he believes the fault lies with a 40-year-old sewer line that is too small for the load now being placed upon it. He has complained not only to AMUD, but also to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). The TCEQ did an investigation, but determined that there were no violations.
Price has also had no luck in getting AMUD to reimburse the money he spent to correct the sewer smell problem at his house.
In an email to English last summer after the lift station was installed, Price wrote:
“Your inspectors expect me to replace the sewer line under my driveway and install a new sewer tap. Your employees have told me there was no solution for my smell problem, but I’ve proved that there is a solution, but it doesn’t involve an easy fix. Please do your part to help me complete this project and reimburse me for my expenses.”
Price said that he has considered suing AMUD, but local attorneys either “don’t want to touch” the utility district, or demand $15,000 to take the case.
In a July 31, 2012 response to an email from Price about the smell problem, English stated that “every attempt” was being made to ensure that the gravity system in Price’s area was working properly.
“Although AMUD works to assist customers when possible with questions and concerns regarding private property installations, our responsibilities are limited to the main collection lines and taps,” English wrote.
Price said that he has worked for 30 years as a contractor and is familiar with the workings of sewer systems.
“The real fix,” he said, “is going to be a sealed pressurized sewer system where none of the vapor can escape, like the system they have on the houses around Lake Weatherford.”
He added: “I knew that there was something they could do; they just couldn’t do it from their desk for twenty bucks.”
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