NORWAY – When Ed and Doris Lyons and their daughter Samantha moved from a trailer park in Oxford to a hillside on Salanitas Drive overlooking Lake Pennesseewassee in 2006, they hoped for a new start and a better quality of life.
“We saved and scrimped and paid cash for this land,” said Lyons of the hillside property off Route 118 less than 1,000 feet from the lake.
They had a new septic system installed for $25,000 and six months later effluent from it was backing up into the shower.
Now, the Lyonses are facing a 10-year lien on their property to pay for a another sewer system, a situation they contend was caused by the contractor who allegedly failed to install a proper system and Norway’s building inspector who they say failed to properly inspect it in 2006.
“We’re not even 50 years old. We wanted to set ourselves up. We wanted to be out of debt. It’s not going to happen now,” said Lyons as he stood not 10 feet from the steps of his home on the cement slabs and rusted handles of his sewer tank Wednesday.
Putting a shovel into the ground, it took only a minute to dig less than a foot to reveal raw sewage.
After many months of trying to get help from the town and in what he called “a last resort,” Lyons called the state’s Division of Environmental Health several weeks ago asking for help. State plumbing inspector Brent Lawson arrived at Lyons’ home late last month.
Lawson said he found a malfunctioning system which was allowing effluent to drain into soil outside the leach field. He informed Norway officials they had 30 days to take enforcement action against the property owner and file a plan in writing or the town would be faced with violation penalties of at least $500. The town immediately notified the Lyonses that they must correct the system within 10 days or face enforcement action.
Lawson said the pipe that goes from the septic tank to the leach field is broken and effluent leaks from the tank, bubbles up and heads down to a drainage ditch to the backyard of the Responsible Pet Care cat shelter on Route 118 and down the hill toward Lake Pennesseewassee.
Lyons said a geological map shows his house is on an aquifer that runs down to the lake.
“That’s one thing we do not want to happen,” Lawson said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “Any septic system not working properly is a potential hazard. There is effluent going somewhere,” he said.
The Lyonses assert that Norway’s building inspector, Jeff Van Decker, failed to properly inspect the septic system in 2006 before issuing a permit, and because the contractor did not install a baffle in the tank, Lyons says the system began to break down within six months. The contractor, who could not be reached for comment, has left the area and closed his business, Lyons said.
The Lyonses received a small settlement from the contractor’s insurance company which allowed them to repair the floors damaged by the effluent and have the house professionally cleaned.
For his part, Van Decker, who has been the town’s building inspector for about 15 years, said the problem has to be fixed, but declined to comment any further on the situation when contacted by the Sun Journal.
Town Manager David Holt has said it is unclear what happened. The town agreed last summer to install a baffle and to pump out the system in an attempt to fix the problem, but that failed, said Lyons, who is concerned that effluent might run into his neighbors’ wells.
Faced with installing a new system, which Lyons said could cost between $16,000 and $24,000, he has repeatedly asked the Board of Selectmen to “do the right thing” and help finance the job. The board advised Lyons to seek funding through Community Concepts, but Lyons at first avoided the option not wanting to place a required 10-year lien on his property.
“We’re less than a year away from owning the place,” said Lyons, who was laid off from his telecommunications job about a year ago. In December, the loan will be closed and in March the final payment is due for the property, he said.
Now, he said, he will probably be forced to have a lien on his property and apply for new funding that has just become available.
Lyons said all he can hope for is that the town will split the bill 50/50.
“I know this is a difficult situation. This is an innocent property owner,” Lawson said. “Someone might have missed something, the contractor may not have done his job properly, but we have to try to protect public health. No one is at fault,” he said.
Lyons said he has learned several lessons over time. First, homeowners should make sure that any contractor they hire not only is licensed and has insurance but is also bonded. Secondly, beware of low bids. “It’s not always a good deal,” he said. And third, never assume an inspector has done his job correctly.
When asked if he made a mistake calling the state into the situation, Lyons said, “I don’t know, but I don’t think so. I have to do the right thing.”