Boston officials working to change rules surrounding private sewer lines

Boston officials working to change rules surrounding private sewer lines

BOSTON — Beneath the private alleys of the South End is something very few people know about, private sewers lines. Many of them date back to the 1800s and because they are private, the city can't touch them - even when they collapse.

When the South End was built, some owners turned their alleys over to the city. Others decided to keep theirs private. Those with private alleys had to maintain their own, and that stands true today.

Many of those who have these private sewer lines attached to their homes don't even know they're private until something goes wrong, but city councilors Michelle Wu and Ed Flynn, however, are trying to change that. They called for a working group to address concerns about the sewers at a hearing last week.

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"We need to make sure everyone has access to fresh clean water and a good waste management sewer system," said Wu.

"There's still work water and sewer needs to do. They're studying doing an inventory right now," said Flynn.

The private sewer beneath the alley between W. Brookline and Pembroke Streets collapsed in recent years and residents have been trying to make changes.

"It's excruciating. It's been canceling meetings, delayed meetings, feeling like we are just marching in place," said Etta Rosen.

Rosen is one of the people who had private sewer lines attached to her home. Her sewer collapsed in 2015.

"There was raw sewage in the alley so the liaison from the Mayor's Office came out, smelled it and nothing happened. It was fixed by a private contractor because it couldn't be there and the city wouldn't touch it," said Rosen.

She's been researching this issue for five years and says this is the most significant step since she's been dealing with this.

"It's very exciting, yes. We are hopeful," said Rosen.

The Boston Water and Sewer Commission agreed to take an inventory of all private lines back in February - and will be meeting with residents once again in late April or early May.