When Alison Gillespie returned to her home on Brisbane Street in Silver Spring last week to find WSSC crews unloading steel plates and a backhoe, she immediately jumped out of her van.
Horrified, Gillespie said she thought of County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) standing two blocks away in October when the ribbon was cut on a $5.5 million project that rehabilitated 17 miles of roads in the Forest Glen area. The project was a part of the county’s “Green Streets” initiative, which aims to filter rainfall and pollutants that wash off surface areas and into streams, according to the county’s website.
The recently completed paving project, which lasted for two years, put the neighborhood streets on a five-year moratorium, according a statement from Al Roshdieh, deputy director for the county’s Department of Transportation. The moratorium would prevent utilities from tearing up the road, excluding an emergency.
So, when Gillespie saw crews about to tear into their newly paved road just weeks after it was completed, she contacted everyone she could think of.
“I started calling through numbers. I’m calling WSSC, friends of the neighborhood saying ‘can you help,’” she said.
The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission is working under a federally mandated consent decree to “evaluate and repair” the county’s entire sewer system, said Jim Neustadt, director of communications and community relations for WSSC, in an email to the residents last week.
The project must be completed by December 2015, he said. While he was unable to give an exact date, Neustadt told The Gazette on Friday that WSSC had the permits for the sewer improvements before the paving project began in 2010.
Ted Martin, president of the Forest Estates Community Association, said he talked to the county’s Department of Transportation every day and exchanged many emails with them during the paving project. He said he was assured by the county’s Department of Transportation that they reached out to utilities Washington Gas, Pepco and WSSC a year before the project began to coordinate any work they needed to do before the streets were paved.
In an email, Roshdieh said WSSC had planned to repair a damaged 8-inch sewer pipe by inserting a 6-inch line. The plans would mean crews could work between manholes and not need to crack open the streets. However, what the utility thought was an 8-inch line really had a 6-inch diameter, too small to be relined. “So the decision was made to cut open the road,” Roshdieh said.
The project seemed to fall off WSSC’s radar, he said.
Neighbor Donna Rinaldo, who has lived on Brisbane Street for 16 years, said the street was left “very dilapidated” from work WSSC had done on the road in the past and during the snow storms of 2010.
“You took your life into your hands driving down our street,” she said of dodging potholes.
Rinaldo said she is most concerned that the crews about to cut up their road were unable to answer why they were there.
“With today’s economy and trying to utilize money where it’s best needed … why would you then turn around and cut it up just to see if there’s a problem,” she said.
In the interview, Neustadt said WSSC is planning to take another look at the project to do everything the utility can to avoid cutting open the streets by going back to “see if there is a way to do it the original way.”
Martin said that while he and is neighbors understand that this work needs to be done, they are hoping their streets will be moved to “the back of line” so they can take advantage of the newly paved roads.
Megan Carnell, who has lived on Brisbane for more than 10 years, said the roads were in “extreme disrepair” before the paving and residents were thrilled the county put them at the top of the list for the program.
“To see WSSC come in and start to potentially tear up the roads, it was very frustrating,” Carnell said. “The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.”
Carnell — along with Gillespie, Martin and Rinaldo — sent pleas of help to WSSC, the Department of Transportation, the County Executive’s office and county councilmembers last week in an effort to save their street.
Councilwoman Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring said that as soon as her office found out about the emails, her staff was “right on top of it.” She said this situation is a case of agencies needing to work closer together.
“I understand the frustration of the neighbors,” Ervin said, noting that she is calling for a review and a worksession in the county’s Transportation and Environment Committee.