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Trees damage sewer pipes

The patch of asphalt where Patricia Trotman's sewer line was replaced, and the offending sidewalk tree she says damaged the pipe. Photo by Rich Bockmann
TimesLedger Newspapers

Laurelton homeowners say city sidewalk trees are wreaking havoc with their sewer lines, leaving them few options but to replace the lines themselves at a hefty cost.

Homeowner Patricia Trotman, 76, said she knew there was something wrong with her sewer when water began backing up into her sink. She called a plumbing service, which came out and snaked a camera down into her sewer line.

She said she could see roots breaking into the pipe at two places: one where it passed by a tree near the sidewalk, and the other near the landscaped mall that runs down the middle of 139th Avenue.

She called a sewer service, which charged her $11,000 to rip up her front lawn and the roadway and lay down a new sewer line. She said she and her 90-year-old husband live on a fixed income.

Through its Forestry Services, the city Parks Department removes dead sidewalk trees, prunes their branches and repairs sidewalks damaged by the trees’ roots. A spokesman for the department said the responsibility of maintaining and repairing sewer systems falls on the shoulders of property owners.

“Tree roots cannot damage sound pipes and only intrude if they have been afforded access by a break or perforation,” the spokesman said. “Older sewage lines sometimes rupture due to deteriorating joints or settling earth, seeping water and nutrients into the surrounding soil. Once roots discover these leaks, they tend to grow towards and enter the source.”

“Parks does not permit the removal of healthy trees, even in cases where roots may be interfering with a sewer,” the spokesman continued. “There are a number of temporary fixes that can be explored, including the use of commercial drain cleaning products or professional root clearing services. However, the only real lasting solution is to repair the defective sewer line with impervious, watertight piping.”

Dwight Johnson, president of the Federated Blocks of Laurelton, said many homeowners in the area have come to him with similar complaints. He said the group’s next meeting will be a town hall co-hosted with Community Board 13 District Manager Lawrence McClean and city representatives to discuss the issue.

The meeting is scheduled for this Thursday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at St. Luke Cathedral, at 133-21 232nd Ave.

Trottman submitted a claim with the city comptroller’s office to see if she could be reimbursed for her expenses, but other than the letter she received acknowledging receipt of her claim, she said she has had little luck following up on her claim. The letter did inform her that she has one year and 90 days after the date of the incident to bring a lawsuit against the city, if she chooses to do so.

“At my age, one year’s not promised to me,” she quipped.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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