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Homeowners Angry, Unable To Foot Huge Fees After Failing Dye Tests

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – There are houses on the market on Pioneer Boulevard in Brookline.

But although there are eager buyers, there are no sales.

"We had a buyer, $55,000 on this house," said homeowner Barbara Mazzella. "Thanks to PWSA, we lost the buyer."

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority says in order to sell these houses, the property owners must tie their downspouts into the storm sewer instead of the sanitary sewer – a job Mazzella says will cost her between $30,000 and $40,000 when the house is only worth $55,000.

"I can either leave it vacant, let the city take it for back taxes or tear it down," she said. "Those are my options."

She's not alone. About 5,000 houses in the city – and thousands more throughout the county – have failed dye tests, meaning they too will eventually have to fix their storm drains.

"This was my retirement money," said Dale Redpath of Brookline. "Now I don't have it. That's how I see it."

It's part of a federal consent order to keep storm water out of the sanitary sewer and prevent raw sewage from spilling into our rivers and streams. But Redpath says it rendered his house worthless.

"What am I going to do?" he asked. "I'm going to walk away. I'm going to walk away and ruin my credit because I have no other option. There is no option."

And the property owners are getting no help from the Water and Sewer Authority, which says it's under orders from the federal government and is telling property owners they're on their own.

"You got to dig it, you got to put it back in, you got to reroute traffic, you have to hire engineers," said one person.

"There's no easy solution and it's unfortunate that some poor individuals are getting caught up in this," Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald is sympathetic, but says the problem is money. The feds have ordered the fix, but have supplied no funds to get it done.

"It would come on the taxpayer," he said. "The taxpayers would be paying for this so that would be a drain on everybody else's taxes. And you got to try to come up with some equitable solution for everybody."

Still short of writing a check, Fitzgerald says all agencies have to come together and help the property owners help them make he fixes.

"That's where we are, starting to put a plan together where we can come to the community, come to a block or come to a neighborhood and say you 10 houses have this issue, you 15 houses and here's what we have to do," Fitzgerald said.

But if there is help in the offing, it can't come too soon for these property owners who say they have no choice but to walk away from their houses.

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