Updated: Dec 27, 2022
By Elizabeth Perry
Stowe resident Jeffrey Paul says the township owes him at least $8,500 of the $25,485 he paid to fix a sewer backup caused when the township repaved Palace Avenue and crushed his sewer main.
Even though the repairs – which Paul paid for out of pocket – were approved by Public Works Director Dan Burkhardt at the time of the dig, they only offered him $2,500.
When Paul balked, Commissioner’s President Robin Parilla said they’d “see him in court.”
“I just want the council to take responsibility for their main. My total bill was almost $26,000, and I had to take money out of my 401(k),” Paul said.
Paul has lived at his Palace Street residence since 1998 with his wife and daughter. He first noticed issues with his sewer backing up after the street was repaved which he estimates took place between 2012-2014. Stowe Township Manager Roberta Farls said the township is currently trying to find out exactly when the repaving happened.
At that time, Paul’s sewer began backing up, filling his basement with sewage. He paid a trio of plumbers, the last of which seemed to fix the problem. The family also switched to septic tank toilet paper.
A short time later, Paul said his next-door neighbor also started having backup issues. It turned out that when the township repaved, they’d crushed the main line. They ended up paying for the neighbor’s repairs, Paul said. When his neighbor’s line was fixed, the township reassured Paul his sewer line was also fine.
And it did seem fine, until Memorial Day of this year, when the sewage started backing up again.
“You can't do clothes, you can't go to the bathroom.” In a household of three people, Paul said they all had to run to GetGo or Speedway just to use the bathroom.
Once again, Paul called in plumbers. From May into June, they couldn’t find the source of the problem. They started at his house, with repairs that cost $5,000. Then the plumbers went out to the curb, which cost $16,800.Finally, in July, they went out into the street.
“Then they went down to the mainline, it was pancaked, it was flat, nothing there. My line was just draining into the ground, it wasn't going into the main sewer,” Paul said.
The plumbing company, Matt Mertz, consulted with the township about Paul’s collapsed line. Burkhardt gave Mertz permission to replace the line.
“They had public works come out and they said, go ahead and fix it, but it was fixed on my dime,” Paul said.
Commissioner Cheryl McDermott said she appreciated what Burkhardt was trying to do, but wished other steps had been taken.
“I think from the get-go they should have had the engineer going up there. I respect the township saying take care of it, they should have had the engineer take a look,” McDermott said.
The plumbers replaced between six to eight feet of sewer main at a cost of $8,500. McDermott said the project should have been bid out. Burkhardt did not respond to a request for comment.
After the work was done, Paul wasn’t sure what to do next to be reimbursed. He contacted former Township Secretary Dwight Boddorf but got no response.
“I didn't know I was supposed to go to a public forum,” Paul said.
During the October Stowe Township Commissioner meeting, Paul brought up his concerns to the council publicly for the first time. At the Nov. 7 workshop meeting, they discussed giving Paul the full amount he paid – $25,485. The next day, at the regular meeting, they voted to offer him $2,500.
As of the Dec. 12 workshop meeting, Paul addressed the commissioners, telling them he thought the settlement they put forth for $2,500 was too low. Paul asked for $8,500, which was the cost of repairing the sewer main. The discourse grew heated between Parilla and Paul.
“We gave you an offer, and we thought it was a reasonable offer because we the township did not go underground and do that to your line,” Parilla said.
“It wasn’t my line. It was your line,” Paul said.
“I’m not asking you to touch anything of mine. Your responsibility is the main line, that’s what that $8,500 entails.”
Paul said if the township wasn’t happy with the cost or outcome, they shouldn’t have approved it at the time.
“We’re gonna do it now. So you go back and talk to your firm and we’ll see you in court,” Parilla said.
Paul said Parilla should recuse himself from any votes because of a conflict of interest. The two had once been political rivals.
Paul ran against Parilla as a write-in candidate in 2021. After losing the election, Paul publicly spoke out against re-appointing Parilla as board president due to Parilla’s unpaid tax issues.
Township Solicitor, Brad Matta said the commissioners were deliberating on the possibility of a settlement for Paul, and would likely reach a decision within the next 30 days.
He also said Paul’s Right to Know request would be answered within the 30-day time frame, and he was still searching for the video footage of the sewers and other materials Paul asked for.
Paul, 61, is semi-retired, and his wife is not working. He doesn’t want to sue because he worries it could end up costing him even more money. Still, he isn’t sure that even now the sewage main has been properly fixed.
“Every time it rains at the bottom of my street, two days later, after everything is dry, there’s still water coming up,” Paul said.