Sanitary Sewer Easements

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FAQ about Sanitary Sewer Easements

The maintenance of the sanitary sewer system is critical to the operation of the collection system and to ensure and secure public health.  The Fox Metro Field Operations Department is dedicated to the proper maintenance and operations of the collection system. The sanitary sewer mains are primarily located underground and are connected by a series of manholes that are either at or slightly above ground level.

In order to properly maintain the sanitary sewer system, Fox Metro employees must be able access the manholes. Inadequate operation and maintenance of the sanitary sewer system can cause failures in the system. This operation and maintenance provides protection of the capital investment, which extends the effective life cycle and reduces operational costs.

Where are the sanitary sewer mains located?

The sanitary sewer mains are located either in the public right-of-way along the streets and roads or on private property in dedicated sanitary sewer easements, which are typically along property boundaries.

What is a sanitary sewer easement and how do I know if one exists in my yard?

Easements are dedicated portions of private property dedicated for public use. In the case of sanitary sewer, the easement is a piece of the property where the sanitary sewer main is located and it gives Fox Metro the right to access the property.  Sewer Use Ordinance #859, which is approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, grants Fox Metro the ability to inspect and maintain the sanitary sewer main. Easements are developed at the time the utility is constructed or when a piece of property is subdivided for use. They are often shown on property surveys and deeds.

It is important to note that the sanitary sewer easement is different than a property service connection, which connects an individual property’s sewer service to the sanitary sewer main.  Users are responsible for maintaining their own service connection.

Why must Fox Metro maintain these sanitary sewer mains in my yard?

Fox Metro is required by state and federal law to prevent sanitary sewer overflows.  A critical element to preventing these overflows is routine inspection and cleaning the sewer mains owned by Fox Metro.  Additionally, the Fox Metro Field Operations Department takes pride in maintaining the sewer mains to the best of their ability as part of the routine service provided to customers.

What is a Sanitary Sewer Overflow (SSO)?

A SSO is the discharge of untreated wastewater from the sewer system out onto the ground or into a waterway. This is a release of waste onto private property will flow into adjacent waterways or into a customer’s home. These spills have various causes, the principal ones being the buildup of fats, oils, and grease as well as root infiltration. Fox Metro works hard within the extensive maintenance program helps to prevent SSOs from occurring.

Please see Fox Metro’s Capacity, Management, Operations, and Maintenance (CMOM) plan page for more information about SSO’s and Fox Metro’s extensive maintenance activities.

Why must Fox Metro cut trees and plants away from the easement?

Trees and brush must be cut away from these areas to maintain access to the sewer line for maintenance and it also removes root materials from the proximity of the sewer mains. The clearing also allows Fox Metro to access these areas with its equipment in the event of an emergency, saving time and cost, but most important is to minimize the amount of sewer water that overflows and to mitigate any negative impact to the environment.

Will new plants and trees be replanted by Fox Metro?

Fox Metro is not required to replace this vegetation and it hinders future access to the easement. Upon clearing the easement, the damaged areas will be re-graded and spread with mulch or sewn with grass seed. The easement will then be maintained as necessary to allow for continued access.

Why do these trees need to be cut down if there is no emergency?

Fox Metro can save valuable time in responding to emergencies such as SSOs if they have unrestricted access to these areas. This time saves further damage from occurring by allowing Fox Metro to focus on the repair work. Easement maintenance is authorized in Sewer Use Ordinance #859.

How does Fox Metro select easements for clearing?

In general, it is Fox Metro’s goal to have 100% of the easements accessible for ongoing maintenance work. There are numerous older easements with heavy growth that are prioritized for heavy clearing and cutting work based upon Fox Metro’s established maintenance records for the area and problems discovered during televising and cleaning.

Will Fox Metro cut and remove all of the trees and plants from within the easement?

Ideally yes.  However, the Fox Metro’s maintenance staff will consider allowing the “boundary trees” along the edge of the easement. These trees can be left in place until the sewer main is replaced by Fox Metro under the following conditions:

Upon Fox Metro’s inspection, there are no signs of tree or plant root intrusion into the sanitary sewer main or manholes that will eventually cause a blockage and sewer overflow.

The “boundary trees” are located within the easement such that they do not prohibit Fox Metro’s use of the easement to access the sewer main or manholes or cause damage to the main or manholes if the trees topple over during high wind conditions.

Fox Metro retains the right to make the final decision on the “boundary trees”.

What laws and regulations apply in these situations?

Relevant laws and regulations for Fox Metro’s easement maintenance include:

Illinois Sanitary District Act of 1917 – grants Fox Metro the authority to create orders, ordinances and resolutions.

Fox Metro Sewer Use Ordinance #859 – allows Fox Metro to operate and maintain the sanitary sewer mains and easements. The most recent version of the Sewer Use Ordinance was accepted and approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2017.

Illinois Noxious Weed Law – requires individuals and property owners to control the spread of and eradicate noxious weeds, such as ragweed and thistle, which are commonly found in Fox Metro’s service area.

National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES permit) – the primary regulatory mechanism for the state and federal government. Relevant portions of this permit include the development, implementation, and submittal of the Sewer Use Ordinance and the CMOM plan, as described above.

Failure of Fox Metro to follow these guidelines and regulations subjects the District to civil penalties (fines) and can jeopardize Fox Metro’s NPDES permit.

If I have fences or sheds in the easement that have been there for a long time, am I “grandfathered” and allowed to keep them?

Unfortunately, no, as this would still not allow Fox Metro to have the required access to the easement. Where possible, Fox Metro will work with property owners to allow existing fences to remain that are parallel to the direction of the sanitary sewer main under the following conditions:

The fence has not damaged the sanitary sewer main and all manholes are fully visible and not obstructed.

The fence is constructed of wood and/or metal materials that can easily be removed by Fox Metro’s equipment such as a rubber-tired backhoe.

Fox Metro is not responsible for any damage to the fence.  If the fence is removed by Fox Metro, it is not responsible for costs to replace the fence outside of the easement.

The fence is considered a temporary, non-conforming use of the Fox Metro’s sanitary sewer easement. Once removed by the property owner or Fox Metro during a sewer emergency, the fence cannot be reconstructed within Fox Metro’s existing sanitary sewer easement.

Again, Fox Metro retains the right to make the final decision on obstructions located in the easement.

Thank you for your cooperation.

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