First, the good news: The sewage is no longer backing up into Wendy Oborne's home in Lido Beach.
The bad news? No municipality has taken responsibility for the damaged sewer pipe in front of the house.
The Lido Beach address is smack in the middle of a sewer No Man's Land. Oborne and her husband, Patrick Nilon, have spent thousands of dollars to repair a section of the sewer system in the street.
We learned of the household's plight after attempts to get the sewer pipe repaired were rebuffed.
"My family lives in Lido Beach, one block east of Long Beach, and we are having major problems with our sewer lines," Oborne wrote in an email Aug. 17. "Hurricane Sandy flooded our house and we were displaced for 6 weeks. We have endured 9 months of major construction and still aren't completely finished.
"For months our sewer has been backing up into the downstairs bathrooms. We got the sewer pipe from our house to the curb completely replaced last Monday [Aug. 12] by a private sewer contractor and we thought that would end our sewer problems -- but it backed up again last night."
The new problem became apparent the morning of Aug. 17, a Saturday. This time it was due to damage to a pipe in the street -- the one that connects the pipe in their yard to the sewer line in the center of the street.
But the pipe appears to be an orphan.
"The city of Long Beach, to whom we pay sewer taxes, says the pipe does not belong to them. The Town of Hempstead says the pipe does not belong to them. Nassau County says the pipe does not belong to them," Oborne wrote.
Watchdog was beginning to hyperventilate.
"We are a family of six people and we can't even flush our toilets or take showers. Please help us determine which government entity is responsible for this problem. With all we have experienced since Hurricane Sandy, this is the last thing we, as taxpayers, should have to endure."
Outside their jurisdiction
The household is in Lido Beach, an unincorporated part of Hempstead Town. Because the sewage winds up in a treatment plant in Long Beach, they pay a sewer fee to the city. But Long Beach doesn't repair sewer pipes outside its boundaries. And both the town and county say they have no jurisdiction.
Nassau County issued a statement last week -- 17 days after Oborne and Nilon hired a private contractor to repair the pipe in the road -- saying it is working with Long Beach "to determine how to resolve this issue for the homeowner as quickly as possible."
Long Beach Public Works Commissioner Jim LaCarrubba, citing a 1966 agreement with the county, told us that outside city boundaries, the sewage collection system belongs to the county.
Nassau takes a different view: "This is an odd circumstance in which the homeowner is not within the County's sewer collection district and resides outside the City of Long Beach limits," county Public Works Department spokesman Michael Martino Jr. said in the statement. "The homeowner does not pay sewer district collection fees to Nassau County."
LaCarrubba pointed to a section of City Code -- "Extraterritorial Services" -- that says the owner of a property outside city lines must "maintain and repair the [sewer] mains and lines at his own cost."
The Oborne-Nilon household is one of 216 in that category, he said: They're outside the city limits and also excluded from a sewage collection district that covers much of Lido Beach.Forced to rehire contractor
The family rehired the contractor who had just replaced the pipe in their front yard. Fred Finger, general manager of Citywide Sewer and Drain Service Corp., said he spent almost three hours at Hempstead Town Hall on Aug. 19, the Monday after the problem emerged, seeking permission to open up the road. The town spent that time trying to nail down who owned the sewer pipe, town spokesman Michael Deery said.
"It took longer than normal because neither Long Beach nor the county would take ownership," he said, so town Highway Commissioner Thomas Toscano "personally authorized opening the road."
The work was completed by the end of the day. "It was a pure pleasure for me this morning to take a shower," Oborne reported the next day.
Still, the family was stuck with the bill. They paid $4,500 to get the damaged pipe in the street removed and a new pipe installed. The cost of repaving has been estimated at $1,500 to $2,000.
Finger anticipates such sewer pipe damage, likely caused by Sandy's tidal surge, will continue to emerge as residents return to their homes. Oborne hopes the family's experience will lead one of the municipalities to take responsibility for No Man's Land.
"We'd love for this not to happen to anyone else," she said.
As for their time spent in sewer purgatory: A neighbor left a back door unlocked so Oborne and Nilon, and their four children, could stop in as needed.