Concerns expressed about sewer line policy

Pipestone resident Jennifer Cronin expressed concerns during the April 18 Pipestone City Council meeting about the city requiring residents to replace clay sewer service lines on their property.

The city is requiring residents to remove clay sewer lines based on a portion of city code that was adopted in 2019 that prohibits discharging of storm water, ground water and other water sources considered clear water into the sanitary sewer system by way of defective sewer service lines or any other means. Cronin read that portion of the code during the city council meeting.

“What it does not state is that we have to replace the clay pipes,” Cronin said. “What I am now being told by the city is that all clay pipe is considered to be out of compliance based on this code. To me, this is a baffling and arbitrary stretch and interpretation of this vaguely worded city code.”

Cronin said many people in her neighborhood had already had their sewer lines scoped and contended that, “while there might be a root here and there,” the clay lines were in generally good condition. She said she called the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and was told that clay pipe is allowed and still being installed in the state.

“Clay pipe, according to the state, is not considered defective just because it’s clay,” Cronin said. “So there is not a state regulation, nor is there actually a Pipestone regulation because our code does not state that we cannot have clay pipe. It says defective sewer.”

She said she’d heard that there are storm drains that tie into the city’s sanitary sewer system and suggested that would be a larger contributing factor to inflow and infiltration (I and I) into the system than clay pipes on residential property. City Engineer Travis Winter said smoke testing and flow monitoring of the sewer system has been done to find locations where that is happening.

“Any cross connection that is found for the storm sewer we work to eliminate as soon as we can,” Winter said. “Some of these street projects have revealed some of those issues and they have been corrected. That’s an ongoing issue and it is a point source of some of the bigger I and I problems, but we do work to address those as we come across them.”

Cronin also contended that the $100 a month surcharge the city adds to utility bills of residents who do not take action to replace clay lines after they’ve been made aware of them is an undue burden on residents, especially those “living paycheck to paycheck.” She suggested waiting until a property is sold or there is street work being done to require the pipes to be replaced in order to lessen the impact on residents.

“I’m asking you, as a citizen and a taxpayer, to reconsider this course of action and fix this code,” Cronin said. “Make it clear, so it calls out clay pipe instead of having it be vague.”

Pipestone City Administrator Jeff Jones said the city did not specifically indicate clay lines were not allowed in the code, so that it would be applicable to any defective sewer lines.

“Clay, because of its age and the time it was installed, tends to be, percentage-wise, found to be more defective,” Jones said. “Specifically, Ms. Cronin’s sewer line was televised. Tree roots, as she acknowledged, were found. Tree roots can only grow in a line if the line is no longer intact.”

If the line is no longer intact, Jones said, groundwater can enter the sanitary sewer system and the city’s sewage ponds, as well as allowing raw sewage to leak from the lines into the ground.

He reiterated that the city received a $1 million, 0 percent interest loan from the MPCA’s Clean Water Partnership Loan Program to make 0 percent interest loans available to property owners for the cost of designing and installing a conforming sanitary sewer service lines. Those loans must be paid back over three years and can be assessed to property taxes.

Cronin said the loans are helpful, but that she still considered it unnecessary and unjustified expenditure.