Crumbling infrastructure: EPCOR, residents facing similar issues

By Rusty Bradshaw
Independent Newsmedia

As Sun City grows older, so does its infrastructure.

EPCOR Water Co. officials are seeking a rate increase to help cover costs of repairing or replacing wastewater main lines in the community. Water company officials estimate they will spend $500 million over the next 10 years updating infrastructure in the communities it serves. Shawn Bradford, EPCOR Corporate Services vice president, said $57 million of that is projected for Sun City and $50 million for Sun City West.

Sun City resident Mike Gavin, standing in back, explains some of the sewer issues he and his wife have faced during a presentation by a Sun City Home Owners Association business partner.

“Much of that infrastructure is more than 50 years old,” he said in a 2016 interview. “It is past its useful life.”

Some residents are facing the same issues. But theirs will not be solved by the EPCOR improvements because the water company’s responsibility is for the main lines under the roadways and stops at the individual property lines. Property owners, or their insurance companies, will pay for any repairs or replacements.

“We do not do work on residential lines, but there are a lot of compnaies out there who do,” said Rebecca Steinholm, EPCOR public and government affairs director.

Representatives of one of those companies, Nu Flow of Phoenix, a Sun City Home Owners Association business partner, gave a presentation on sewer line issues to a room full of residents March 9. Russell Le Sueur and Eric Eaves said while they see line problems throughout Sun City, most are concentrated in phase one, south of Grand Avenue.

“That is where we see a lot of cast iron, under the houses, and Orangeberg pipe, from the house to the street,” Mr. Le Sueur said.

Russell Le Sueur of Nu Flow explains to Sun City residents the difference in sewer pipe products in use.

Orangeburg is a clay-based pipe developed during World War II to address metal shortages as much of that material was diverted to war production. When Del Webb Corporation built Sun City’s phase one in 1959, Orangeburg was still in wide use.

Resident Robert Zaleski has a different definition of Orangeburg.

“Orangeberg pipe was/is carboard tubing impregnated with asphalt that was in use as waste pipe during the first phases of Sun City,” stated Mr. Zaleski, American Society of Plumbing Engineers founding member and officer, in a March 14 email.

“Orangeburg uses clay compression for fittings and that is why tree roots go through them so easy,” Mr. Eaves explained.

Mr. Zaleski stated it was more than a problem of weak joints.

“It is not just joints that are the problem but the fact it was a terrible product and is failing and collapsing with age,” he stated. “If vitrified clay pipe had been used there would be no problem. VCP is what replaced Orangeburg for waste lines outside of buildings.”

Orangeburg was outlawed by code in Arizona during the 1960s, he added.

Mr. Le Sueur said Orangeburg is used from the home to the street, where the line connects with the main line. However, some extend further.

“We were told we were responsible for all the clay pipe, but when I had mine tested it went 60 feet across the street for the connection,” said resident Mike Gavin. “But when we called EPCOR they said our responsibility ended at our property line.”

While Orangeburg is not used under homes, and most homes in phases two and three, north of Grand Avenue and Bell Road respectively, use cast iron for the house-to-main connection, that material is also reaching or past its life span, according to Mr. Le Sueur. The iron pipe is susceptible to corrosion and eventually collapse.

With the advancement of technology, sewer pipes can be inspected using cameras sent through the pipes at the end of cables.

Property owners have several options to correct sewer line issues. Pipes can be repaired or replaced using the traditional trench method, trenchless pipe bursting or trenchless cured in pipe relining. Nu Flow specializes in the latter.

Mr. Le Sueur said clay pipe has a 40-50-year lifespan while cast iron lasts about 50-60 years. He added cured in place pipe relining is designed to last 100 years.

As a precaution, Mr. Gavin and his wife, Deb, had the entire sewer system in their house relined.

“We didn’t have to do the whole house, but we did it anyway to be safe,” Ms. Gavin said.

Residents depending on their homeowners insurance, or supplemental insurance policies, to fund such repairs or replacement must perform due diligence when signing up for such policies.

“Most insurance policies have a lot of restrictions,” Mr. Gavin said. “You have to read all the clauses in any insurance policy.”

Mr. Eaves also said some insurance companies only allow policy holders to use plumbers they contract. He also encouraged homebuyers to first get a sewer inspection prior to purchasing a property.

While clay pipes are more common in phase one, they do exist elsewhere in Sun City, including some main line areas. Mr. Le Sueur said Nu Flow contracted for a project with EPCOR on 103rd Avenue north of Grand Avenue and found Orangeburg pipe there.

“We do see a lot of clay pipe that is nearing the end of its life,” Ms. Steinholm said.

Mr. Le Sueur said residents should avoid using costic chemicals, such as drain cleaner and bleach, in their home sewer systems.

“Don’t flush those supposedly disposable wipes down the toilet,” Mr. Eaves cautioned. “We see a lot of those in the pipes we inspect. Grease can also cause damage to pipes.”

In answer to a resident’s question about winter visitors’ home being more susceptible to pipe damage, Mr. Le Sueur said water regularly running through pipes can help reduce issues.

“My theory, with no scientific proof, is that homes that are empty for several months see the sewer pipes dry out,” he said.

ABS hard plastic pipe began use in the 1970s and PVC, a similar plastic pipe, was introduced later.

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