Stand in the backyards of Meadowbrook and you look up to Straw Avenue and the backyards of Florence. The complex was built in a low-lying swampy area. A number of small streams feed its pond, and under the ground flows another kind of river in a pipe. A regional supervisor for POAH (Preservation Of Affordable Housing, Inc.), the owner of Meadowbrook Apartments, told me today that “All indications are that the blockage was not in the private lines.” He said that the lines owned by the housing complex were free and clear. Indeed, a tenant in building four told me that a firm hired by management had rodded out and flushed the line only one week before the incident, which displaced seven families.
Building Four is the lowest building in Meadowbrook, there has been some sinking of buildings over the years, and the basement apartments are, obviously, the lowest habitable point. It is here the toilets turned into fountains. Right now the carpets have been stripped out of the apartments, exhaust fans are running and the seven apartments are going to remain empty for some time, until the problem is fixed. Although relationships are amiable between the city and POAH, I have this feeling that lawyers may be involved in this problem sooner or later. The costs to POAH for the last incident in 2005 were considerable, because most of the apartments were vacant until quite recently. They had to strip out the whole basement area, put in new carpets, refrigerators, drywall, and appliances. The sounds of construction have been an annoyance to residents living upstairs for many months. Many of the tenants who had moved into the building just recently lost everything, including clothing, presents and furniture.
This is the second time there has been a serious flood, and both times it hit the basement apartments in building 4, the lowest point in the system. The head of the Northampton’s sewer department, John Young, told me that the city feels that a factor in the blockage was grease originating in the Meadowbrook lines. He says that that the city line was flowing at the time of the blockage but it is too early to give a definitive answer . He plans to put a television camera down into the sewer line and find out what is going on.
The last time the flood happened because the city line was in “terrible shape”, according to Alexandra Dailey, asset manager with POAH, as quoted in the Gazette on December 12. “I believe the incident last time was more serious because there was a blockage in the city line. . . ” said Dailey. “They did a major cleaning of that line and so we thought that was the cause, because cleaning it hadn’t been on the regular list of preventative maintenance.
I understood a lot more about the problem when I went over to the DPW and looked at the map of the system. The sewer line is a trunk line built in the 1970s, and Meadowbrook is the last stop on this 12″ line that serves a large residential area of Florence off Bridge Road. After Meadowbrook, it crosses into the forest, goes under the old railroad embankment,crosses Locust Street near the DPW offices, and heads toward Hockanum Road. Where there is a forest there are roots, and where there are roots there can be danger to older sewer lines.
“A 12 inch line to serve that whole neighborhood and a complex of 250-odd apartments?” said my friend the other morning. He has worked in public housing for about fifteen years. “That’s not big enough. When did Meadowbrook get approved?”
“1972 I think.”
“Who was the building inspector back then?”
“Cecil Clark, I think. ”
“Nuff said.” he commented.