One day shortly after moving into his South Fairlington Village condominium townhouse, Stan Trachtenberg's nose picked up an unpleasant odor wafting from his recreation room.
"I thought my cat had forgotten where her little pan was." Trachtenberg recalled. Instead, he found the rug in the basement-level recreation room soaked by raw sewage that had backed up from the sewer lines serving his townhouse and those of his neighbors.
That was some two years ago, and since then it has happened "five of six" more times. Trachtenberg said. Trachtenberrg is not alone, according to an investigation by an as hoc sewer committee composed of Fairlington residents. The committee has found evidence through an informal survey of 200 residents that sewage has backed up into townhouse there on almost 300 separate occasions since 1973.
Trachtenberg and about half a dozen other South Fairlingtonians, alarmed at the number of sewer backups at the complex, have formed the committee to determined who or what is to blame for the problem. Anton Schmalz, chairman of the Ad Hoc Sewer Resolution Committee, said about between and 90 other Fairlington residents have volunteered their help.
Group members have talked, without result, with Arlington county officials and employees, County Board members, an engineer, lawyers, plumbers, the Arlington commonwealth's attorney, other Fairlington residents, and to Fairlington's developers, who maintain there is no sewer backup problem. [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE] nity of townhouses and apartments straddling the Arlington County-Alexandria line. They werre built in the 1940s as housing for World War II government employees. In 1972, the new owners, CBI (Chicago Bridge and Iron Works) Fairmac decided to convert the 3,439 rental units into comdominiums throught a total restoration project. Most of the restoration is complete, and the units have become popular homes for young childless couples and singles.
Renovation included the addition of dishwashers, washers, garbage disposals, and new toilet and plumbing fixtures - all items that encourage increased use of sewer lines by residents. But no new lateral sewer lines were installed.
The more than 3,000 Fairlington units are served by 540 common lateral sewers. These 35-year-old sewer lines each serve several units in one building.
A CBI Fairmac official disputes the ad hoc sewer committee's allegations of excessive sewage backups.
The sewer committee is making a "deliberate attempt to overstate the situation, according to William O. Vose, director of management and operations for Fairmac. He said that since January the company has received reports of 52 cases of sewer stoppage, all varying in severity, from five of the six South Fairlington villages. He did not have figures for previous years available.
Vose said that in 1972, before Fairlington began its conversion of the rental units to condominiums, the company evaluated every facet of restoration.
"We decided that replacing lateral lines did not seem to be a good idea.They didn't need replacing, and we would have had to destroy the landhcaping. It (Fairlington Villages) would have looked like a West Virginia strip mine," Vose said.
He added, "If you have a sewer backup, you don't like it. It is an important problem. But frankly, if preventive maintenance is done, it doesn't become a problem. We don't feel sewer backups plague Fairlington."
Vose said that when sewer backups at the complex occur, they are usually one of three types.
One kind occurs shortly after occupancy, and is caused by construction debris. Another is called usage backup, and happens because items that don't belong in the sewer system - paper towels, cloth rags, sanitary napkins - are thrown into it anyway by residents.
The third type, Vose said, occurs when tree roots get into the sewer lines. Occasionally, the company has had to cut down trees to solve that problem, one of Fairlington's selling points is its mature trees.
Officers of the condominium boards (the condominium assocation's governing bodies) who were contacted had mixed feelings about the ad hoc sewer committee's goals.
Katherine Clatanoff, president of Fairlington Glen (Village Four), said her board has decided to be an "interested observer."
"We don't feel the issue is as clearcut as the committee members make it out to be," Clatanoff said. "There clearly is a sewer problem . . . The problem generally is roots in the line."
Richard Miller, president of Village One, said that between 10 to 15 per cent of the units his area had problems immediately after occupancy, but the problem lessened when homeowners used flushed root destroyer down the drains.
According to an official June 12, 1972 memo to then-county manager Bert W. Johnson from the builing inspections and utilities directors, there was some concern before the condominium conversion that the sewer lines needed replacing.
The county later agreed to allow Fairmac to repair or rebuild existing sewer lines as the company deemed necessary despite the concerns.
Last Friday, the Arlington county staff completed a study of the situation, concluding that the building permits in 1972 had been properly issued.
The sewer committee is taking its case to the Arlington County Board Saturday morning.