Sunday, February 14, 2010

An Open Letter to President Obama

Dear President Obama,

My mother always taught me that if you have an ongoing problem, go right to the top. I don't know how much higher I can go. I've contacted the mayor of Woodbury, NJ, and Steve Sweeny along with Rob Andrews. and Frank Lautenberg. I'll probably get an automated letter from them saying thanks for contacting us, period. I don't have high hopes for help but at least I've tried to resolve this on a lower level. It is the weekend too so just maybe they'll surprise me. I'm not taking any bets on it though.

I am acting on behalf of my 89 year old mother who is now under 24 hour supervision. She is the fourth generation born and raised in the city of Woodbury, New Jersey. Her home was built by my great-grandfather in the early 1900's. She has renovated and taken good care of the house.

You would therefore think that my mother's immediate problem would be easy to resolve but the bureaucratic process involved has taken on an adversarial component.

As you can see in the picture below back in the 1950's the city of Woodbury created a tree lined street. Little did they know that this picturesque look would come back to haunt them.

Since this picture that was taken in 1957 the large tree to the right has been removed and replaced by another down towards the little evergreen seen on the left but still between the sidewalk and the curb. This is a section of land the city has always claimed as "theirs" and from the sidewalk over as "ours". Pretty good idea on their part they don't have to clean the sidewalks.

As years passed by the city planted trees in front of almost every house and replaced them when they died. It was wonderful in the summer as they provided shade. In the Fall we could play in the leaves. However within more than the last 10 years those beautiful trees have wreaked havoc on the neighborhood, according to the city and they are no longer replaced.

I'm not sure of the initial sewage back-up into my mother's house but I know it was quite some time ago. The city came out, looked at "their" side and said it wasn't "their" problem. My mother, the good woman that she is, called a plumber and cleaned out her side.

Soon after the initial shock of sewage within the house the event became a routine six month occurrence. The second time she was met with the same response and again did her part. However when it occurred a third time she was informed that the tree roots were clogging her drain or whatever. And so the story begins.

As my mother has been a widow for close to fifty years my brother and I have taken on various roles in caring for her. Since the matter at hand was under his realm, he took charge and has worked diligently on trying to resolve the matter. You see the city has insisted that the roots causing the problem belong to "their" tree that is on "their" side of the sidewalk and that they cannot remove "their" tree until it dies. So we were left with the six month occurrence of having to pay mega bucks to have her side of the pipeline cleared and going through the same old story with the same old guys.

This past summer my daughter moved in as part of a 24 hour supervision for my mother. She wasn't in only a couple of days when the cycle hit once again. My brother wasn't available initially so I was able to be brought up to speed on the continuing saga by the city personnel who came and did their due diligence. They now informed us that it wasn't only our tree roots but the roots from all the other trees lining the street clogging the main sewer line. However they could not help us because the clog was on our side. I failed to see their logic as it was "their" trees that caused "our" problem. Wouldn't you think they would have felt the responsibility of rectifying the problem by clearing "our" side? We tried to reason with the supervisor but to no avail.

Finally we gave in because the problem had to be fixed. We reached a really nice power plumber who came out to assist in our dilemma. It was amazing what he pulled out of my mother's side of the line: disposable diapers, diaper pins, feminine napkins, condoms, etc., none of which were used within her home. After six hours of working on this section of line our plumber agreed that it was as a result of the blockage within the city sewer line that these items backed up into my mother's line.

The city was so adamant about the problem being ours. So it amazed me when the next two days the city roto rootered the length of my mother's street to clear any blockages by tree roots etc. You had to be there to appreciate what came shooting out of the manhole in front of my mother's house. A fountain of let your imagination go.

Well, here we are six months later and what should my daughter tell me yesterday-yep, the sewer has backed up again into the house. Now I'm really angry because I know today when I call the emergency whatever we will get the same story. On top of that there is at least 2 feet of snow that has to be tackled before any relief from this can be addressed.

This is definitely a health issue. One that I now understand has occurred in other homes along the street. One in which the City of Woodbury, New Jersey must take responsibility and correct.

I believe my mother's house along with others on this street are eligible for Historical Preservation through the Municipal Land Use Law (MLUL) authorized in 1986. I'm not sure if we can gain relief help through that avenue but I'll look into it.

I realize that finances are tight in every town in the country. However that does not excuse the town fathers from protecting their taxpayers from exposure to dangerous health situations brought on by their neglect to maintain the sewer system in this case. Nor should the taxpayer bear the financial burden assigned to them for the city's neglect.

It would be nice just for once if people did the right thing and didn't have to encourage or force the use of the legal system to make it right. Perhaps this thought would be something your administration might entertain and could encourage. As for now I know there isn't much you can do to assist in my mother's dilemma but at least I can tell her I went to the top.

I thank you in advance for taking time to read my letter and pondering advocating for people and towns to just do right. And if my mother could she would thank you too.

Have a Firecrackin Great Valentine's Day!


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