Niagara Falls residents hope pipes excavations will expand

NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (WIVB) – Crews have completed test excavations on 72nd Street in Niagara Falls as the city and the water board continue to search for answers about exactly why so many pipes have frozen there over the last two winters, leaving many residents without water, some for weeks.

The private contractor hired on by the water board to complete the two exploratory digs on 72nd street began work on Wednesday. On Friday, the sites on the street were covered with large metal plates where the road had been dug up.

Neither the mayor nor the executive director of the water board are willing to comment on what was found during the excavations at this point. A representative from the city tells News 4, they have agreed not to make any further comment on this until the testing is complete, and no timeline has been given for the expected results.

Still, many residents on 72nd Street tell News 4 they believe they already know what the problem is. They say the lines were not buried deep enough below the frost line when the road was redone a couple years ago. “I was over there yesterday and I watched them measure it. It was only 27 inches from the top of the road down so that’s definitely not deep enough. They need to go at least another two feet down to be reasonable,” said Darrill Becker, who lives just up the street from the second test excavation site. “So I’m glad they did it, but it’s a joke with what they found.”

Becker is one of a handful of homeowners on 72nd Street who are so fed up with the frozen pipes situation, they’ve put up signs in their front yards that read “House for Sale: Water Seasonal” to make a point. The signs started more or less as a joke, but the message is very serious. “We just want them to know the water is seasonal. It’s impossible to sell your house. I mean, who’s going to buy it?” explained 72nd Street resident George Vacanti.

These homeowners say they hope their signs keep pressure on the city and the water board to keep working on a solution.

The mayor and the executive director of the Niagara Falls Water Board said earlier this week that their next steps will be determined by what is found in these initial test excavations. Depending on what is found in these digs, more excavations could be needed elsewhere. Plenty of people living elsewhere in the city are hoping to see the contractors come their way. “I pray to gd they hit 24th Street and fix our lines out there,” said Carol Gerbasi, who did not have water in her home this winter because of the frozen pipes. “We could never survive another winter like this,” she added.

And, while the “for sale” signs on 72nd Street show those homeowners’ frustrations, it’s the “for rent” sign missing from Matthew Lolo’s Royal Avenue property that tells his story.  “I had tenants here for two years and they moved out because the water lines were froze,” he said, adding that in the fifteen years that he’s owned the property, the lines had never frozen until the road was recently redone.

Like the residents on 72nd Street, Lolo believes the pipes were not placed deep enough below the frost line during that project. “Ever since the road was redone, we have had problems, and it’s over half the houses on this street,” he said.

Now, Lolo says he can’t rent his house out again knowing that the pipes will likely freeze this coming winter, too. “I have to sit on it and actually lose money because there’s nobody that’s going to rent a home with no water,” he explained.

Some of Lolo’s neighbors find themselves in a similar situation. One Royal Avenue resident we spoke to told News 4 he is planning to walk away from his property on that street after having spent a great deal of time and money completing renovations there because he says he’ll never see a return on his investment while the pipes continue to freeze.

Over on 72nd Street, at least a few people tell News 4 they’re planning to take legal action against the city and the water board to get the money they say they’re owed after putting up for so long with the frozen pipes situation.

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