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August 7, 2012
Serious sewerage backup at Glen Housing Scheme

Two families residing in the Glen Housing Scheme want the government to urgently repair a 36-year-old communal septic system that is depositing what looks like faeces into a gutter close to a house there.{{more}}

But the Public Health Department told SEARCHLIGHT the Housing and Land Development Corporation (HLDC) should fix the problem, even as the HLDC said that is not its responsibility.

“Nothing is really clear as to who is responsible for the maintenance of that system,” Morris Slater, manager of the HLDC, told SEARCHLIGHT on Friday.

“We have no budget or anything set up to maintain those things,” Slater further said.

“I am not sure who is supposed to maintain them, but what I can tell you, there is no mechanism in our organisation for the maintenance of those things that were done under a different administration,” he told SEARCHLIGHT.

Slater further said the houses were built by the Housing Department, a forerunner to the HLDC “that actually closed down somewhere down the road.”

“What normally should have happened is that the residents pay a monthly fee for those kinds of maintenance. But that doesn’t happen,” Slater said.

But Rupert Doyle, chief environmental health officer, told SEARCHLIGHT Thursday that the HLDC is responsible for the system.

“And Housing like they don’t want [to] deal with it. … They know about the situation. That is years now,” he said.

Doyle told SEARCHLIGHT that his department does not have the equipment to fix the problem but said the Solid Waster Management Unit of the Central Water and Sewerage Authority might be able to help.

But while the government agencies look to each other to fix the problem, Alana Riffin showed SEARCHLIGHT what appeared to be faeces emptied by part of the communal septic system into a gutter close to her house.

She said a government-employed plumber — in an apparent act of good-neighbourliness — tried to fix the problem after sewage came through the toilet bowls of several houses in July.

The plumber, Riffin said, cleared all but a badly damaged manhole and said that the system had to be rigged

to deposit the sewage in the gutter to prevent further flooding of the homes.

“All the septic waste from people’s toilets is going into the gutter,” Riffin said, adding that the Ministry of Health has not done anything about the problem.

“We called a couple times, they came, they said they will investigate and they never came back. That was a couple years ago,” she said.

But Slater explained that the problem may have resulted from poor planning when the Housing Department built the housing scheme under the R. Milton Cato administration during the mid 1970s.

The Department decided to build a communal septic system.

“They were just looking at the initial investment and somebody thought it was more cost-effective to build one big tank without looking into what problems — who is going to service it and how the community is going to deal with it,” Slater said.

“Government just built the houses and pulled away and … now it is beginning to have problem, there is nothing in place for the upkeep and the residents are now complaining because it is affecting their whereabouts,” he further stated.

Riffin told SEARCHLIGHT that a retaining wall close to one of the houses collapsed and damaged the septic system during a storm more than 10 years ago.

The damage, she said, caused to system to back up and residents have continually complained and reported the situation to the Ministry of Health.

“[The Ministry of Health] put them on to Housing (HLDC). Housing put them on to someone else … they say they don’t have any record of this plan inside of the government system,” Riffin said of other residents’ efforts to get the authorities to fix the problem.

She said state officials have said the only solution is for each house-owner to build a septic tank.

But Riffin said her house only has space towards the side and laying the waste water pipes could be problematic.

“We can’t go up because the waste can’t go up,” she told SEARCHLIGHT.

“So, it’s either they clear the one or something,” she said and added that the government should refund the cost of building the individual septic tanks.

“This is how we bought the property … 30-something years ago.”

Health concerns

Riffin further said she believes the situation is affecting the health of her 3-year-old daughter who has been sickly since she was 10 months old.

“They run kidney test, liver test, all kind of test on the child. … The environment is really not healthy for them,” she said, adding that two of the six children living in the house are asthmatic.

“[There are] flies every minute around here, especially in the night-time,” she further said.

Meanwhile Riffin’s neighbours Ralston and Zatila Mc Dowall said that the problem is affecting the entire neighbourhood although they are not as affected as the Riffins.

“When it rains, it smell a lot and it is a health hazard and it need to be covered and attended to and the Ministry of Health is responsible for that,” Ralston said.

“Even the residents want to have it done they can’t, because that is a government project. It really needs attention,” he further said.

“They (health officials) came some years ago and they just looked at it. But they are not living here. They are not affected by it,” Zatila said of the three men from the Public Health Department who came to see the problem.

“It needs urgent attention,” the wife said, adding, “Even though we are not directly affected, in the long run, all of will be affected. … I am sorry for that family there (the RIffins) with all those small children. They’re right in the middle of it,” Zatila further said of the six children in the Riffin household.

“Sometime you have to take the bull by the horns. If you don’t advertise things, [nothing will be done]. It warrants urgent attention. If they can fix it soonest all will be well,” Ralston said.

Meanwhile, Danville Toney, acting senior environmental health officer, who is responsible for engineering, told SEARCHLIGHT on Thursday he had just returned to work and did not know about the problem.

On Monday, staff at his department said he was receiving a complaint and unable to come to the phone. They later said he was in a meeting.