The Investigators: Down the Drain

The Investigators: Down the Drain

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The 9News Investigators have uncovered a nasty problem buried right under your feet and it is causing human waste to flow in the streets and into people's homes.

Repairs have already cost East Baton Rouge tax payers more than one million dollars. Now a new break could cause even more of your money to go down the drain.

There is something in the air just south of LSU. People who live near the Burbank Drive-Staring Lane Extension know it all too well.

"Oh yeah, man. It stinks, especially in the morning time. As soon as you step out of the door," Christopher Gray said.

"You just turn on the car, turn the air conditioner on, and you can smell it through the vent," Robbie Bolton said.

They said on a typical day the stench is bearable, But when it rains, they get gushers of untreated sewage.

"It's like a mini fountain, and it's just spreading that brown debris over the roadway," Doug Anderson said.

"Yeah, like everything just comes out in the air," Gray said.

For some, it is a relatively new problem.

Carlos Padial, Jr., who owns 350 apartments nearby, said he has been dealing with sewer-related issues in this area since the late 1980s. Padial said when it rains, his phone gets flooded with calls from tenants who are living a nightmare.

"They are just walking around in sewage in their homes," Padial said.

It has gotten so bad, he said, some of them had to move out costing him a loss of $600 a month in rent per apartment.

How much have you lost at this point?

"Wow! $15,000 to $20,000, easily," Padial said.

Padial said he has been complaining for almost 20 years, and nothing has been done.

"We complained to the city for three months but they did not return one phone call," Padial said.

The 9News Investigators obtained a list of more recent complaints phoned into the city-parish 311 Call Center from a two block radius of the Burbank-Staring intersection. From January of 2014 through March of 2015, 50 callers reported sewage overflows.

One caller said his "toilet was backing up and it is coming through the tub."

Another reported, on the corner of Burbank and Staring, "sewer shooting up high in the air."

On a later date, another resident reported it was "overflowing in the streets at the same location."

Burbank Tire and Car Care called multiple times to report an overflow in the open field next their building. The city pointed to a "pump station failure."

Another report indicated, the plumber said "the sewer line is broke under the street. The city line needs to be tv'd," meaning checked out with a video camera.

"I just assumed our elected officials would take care of the problem. That's what they do, right? That's their job," Bolton said.

Since last August the city has spent $1.6 million to fix a collapsed, six-foot pipe near the sewerage treatment plant by Staring Lane.

City-parish leaders said they still do not know how much it will cost to fix a new break.

Chief of Wastewater Operations, Amy Schulze, said two-thirds of the East Baton Rouge sewage flows through the pipes. Since they failed, the human waste and rain water cannot get to the plant. Instead, it is being dumped in the field behind the Staring-Burbank intersection, just steps from some people's homes.

There's human waste all over the streets, in some peoples yards and in some cases inside their apartments. Isn't that a health concern?

"If they call us to report an overflow, we get our risk management out here, and they clean up," Schulze responded.

However, the problem is only getting worse. In February, the city-parish asked for an additional $66,000 to do an underground television inspection on 13,000 feet of pipe. The outcome, another collapse. That one, just 500 feet from the first.

Do you have any idea why the collapses are happening in this area?

"We have no idea," Schulze responded.

The Investigators took our documents, including the city-parish's initial contract for the work, to Civil and Environmental Engineer, Ronald Malone, PhD. He has been studying Baton Rouge's sewer system for decades. He said the entire city system needs to be inspected.

"It could take years to decades and probably hundreds of millions of dollars to really fix it. It's a problem across the entire city," Dr. Malone said.

However, the city has only $2.5 million dollars a year earmarked for sewer repairs. Remember, the city already spent $1.6 million in repairs on the first collapse in August. Schulze said the city-parish still does not have a final figure on what this repair will cost. If it exceeds the annual budgeted amount, they will have to dip into the operating budget.

Are you confident when this repair is made the people who live around here will not be dealing with this every time it rains?

"That's the plan," Schulz responded.

However, Schulze said there are no guarantees.

"This is the repair we are making to get the flow back to the plant. If we get a large rain, we don't know what's going to happen," Schulze said.

Schulze added, there are also some projects underway in the area that should take some pressure off of the line that is currently under repair. Those are expected to be online by the end of the summer.

Meanwhile, Padial, the apartment owner, said he has passed around a community survey and plans to file a class action lawsuit to help recover some of the loss he and his tenants' said were caused by the overflows.

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