KIYC: Residents stuck paying for broken sewer pipes

Several residents in Berkeley Township are stuck paying for sewer pipes broken by JCP&L.

Several residents in Berkeley Township are stuck paying for sewer pipes broken by JCP&L. (3/17/15)

BERKELEY TOWNSHIP - Nearly a dozen homeowners in Ocean County are dealing with broken sewer lines, the result of underground power lines installed last summer by their utility company, JCP&L. Yet neither the utility nor its contractor are willing to pay for the damage, and while they point fingers, the homeowners are stuck with costly repair bills.

Joe Soranno, of Berkeley Township, was walking on his front lawn last August when the ground gave out beneath his feet, causing him to sink to his knees. “I said ‘what the heck is this’,” Soranno recalls.

His sewer pipe had been broken, an electric cable driven right through it. Joe called JCP&L, but no one got back to him right away, so after three days without indoor plumbing, he hired someone to fix the pipe, at a cost of over $1,000. Nearly eight months later, neither JCP&L nor its contractor, Delaware Valley Utility Contractors, is willing to reimburse him for the damage.  Both contend the fault lies with the Berkeley Sewerage Authority, which they claim inadequately marked its sewer lines.  

But a Kane In Your Corner investigation finds there could be a serious problem with that excuse. Under the state’s “call before you dig” law, the sewerage authority was required to mark pipes it “owns, operates or controls”. Vestiges of green paint outside Soranno’s house show it did that, marking everything from the main sewer line to the cleanouts located just off the curb. The section of pipe that Delaware Valley broke was on Soranno’s lawn and he personally owned it. The code specifically exempts homeowners from responsibility for marking out the location of underground residential utility lines.

JCP&L spokesman Ron Morano contends the law actually is on his company’s side, and the sewerage authority should have done a more thorough job of marking the sewer lines, including the sections it did not own. But when Kane In Your Corner asked Morano to point to a section of the law that supported his position, he referred to a section that deals only with metered utilities, such as gas and electric companies. The sewerage authority says it does not use residential meters to bill customers so that section would absolutely not apply.

Pete Cunningham, executive director of the Berkeley Sewerage Authority, says JCP&L and its contractor need to step up and take responsibility for the damage they caused. “You broke something that belongs to the homeowner; you’re responsible for it,” he says, adding, “This happened again and again and again and again.”

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