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Council Talks Clog In Discussing Pipes
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Clearing clogged sewer pipes for homeowners costs the City of Riverbank a mint of time and money and officials are considering shifting the responsibility to the homeowner.

City Council members held a discussion Monday on sewer and water laterals (the pipes that connect houses to the main lines running under the street), including whether the city should continue to clear them when there is a blockage, and who should bear the cost.

Mayor Virginia Madueno noted that, despite publicity on the trouble caused by residents putting grease and fat down the sink, it still happens and they need more education on the subject. She proposed Community Development Director J.D. Hightower organize a public meeting at the Community Center soon to explain the problem in both words and graphics.

"Some people think that to put hot water down the sink after grease will solve the problem. People do not understand," said Madueno.

If a property has a clean out provided within 10 feet of the public right of way easement fronting most streets, city crews will clear the laterals free of charge, said Hightower. But this current practice costs the city about $20,000 per year in overtime alone.

Queried by Vice Mayor Richard O'Brien, Hightower said Public Works figures for 2010 showed crews were called to 36 cases during regular hours and 37 cases on standby time and there were 10 overflows.

O'Brien said if the blockage was more than 10 feet onto the lot from the main it could have only have been blocked by the home owner. It should therefore be his or her responsibility and the homeowner should get a private contractor to clear it.

Hightower noted that if there is a blockage complaint, Public Works goes out to the site, checks the main (that takes only about 10 minutes) and then inspects and clears the lateral if necessary.

"We cannot ignore a possible overflow. We've already allocated the man-hours and equipment to the main. We have the gear on site, so it's only logical to go ahead and clear the lateral if it's blocked," he said.

Interim City Manager Pam Carder explained the council must ultimately decide whether it wants to charge property owners and does it want to continue doing the clean up itself and then charge the property owner.

That was not decided on Monday, the council saying it needed more discussion.

This was the first noon Monday meeting the council slated in hopes of drawing a good crowd. But the gathering was poorly attended. Council members plan on holding a noon meeting once every quarter.