A tale of two folks and a toilet

Susan Slotnick

There are certain subjects that haven’t crossed my mind in years; notably, I have given no thought whatsoever to where my poop goes once it leaves the vicinity of my property. I trust that the excrement will reach a safe destination and not annoy, repulse or threaten the well-being of anyone else or defile the hallowed ground of my beloved home town. It goes away, that’s all I know, and it doesn’t come back.

Terence Ward and his wife, schoolteacher Robin Ward, have not been able to be as oblivious as I; they have spent 79 days in row with their minds saturated in thoughts of the sewer. They ran into some bad luck. What happened to them is something that could happen to anyone who depends on the village for services.


How it began

Terence Ward explains: “Years before we bought our home, some land was subdivided off of our lot by the prior owner. Neither we nor our neighbor who built a house there knew that our sewer line ran across the new lot, and that line was hacked into by the builder.


“One day sewage began spitting out from a broken pipe onto his property. Not pleasant; awful, smelly and embarrassing. At first we didn’t know whose sewage it was but, being neighborly, we checked it out, making sure all of our plumbing was hooked into the sewer and we were not the problem.

“The Ulster County Health Department visited our neighbors and, nonplussed, looked at the mystery pipe erupting crap on their lawn and without getting to the source gave them the easiest solution. ‘Plug it up with cement,’ they said.

“We didn’t realize it was our waste, nor that we no longer had a functioning sewer, until May 1, when we ran the washing machine and the dirty, soapy water flooded the basement floor.”

Before a contractor can build on a property lot, he or she has to attain a map that shows where the sewage lines are located. For some reason, bad luck again, there was an oversight, or neglect, and the map was never correctly prepared. The repairs alone will cost the Wards out of pocket around $12,000, and no one has stepped up to claim responsibility and help them out. They have appealed to village and county governments, five insurance companies and multiple contractors before realizing that, to have sewage service again, they needed to humble themselves and resort to an appeal to private citizens to raise the money to fix the mess.


A day in the life without sewage

They cannot pee in a pot forever, so they have learned to hold it in. Where would they empty the pot day after day, month after month: on their own already beleaguered property, right in the village adjacent to other people’s property? How would you want to live next door to a family that had urinated on their own land for months in this sweltering heat?

“As my wife, Robin, puts it, first thing in the morning we wake up with cramps from holding it in all night. Then the cats are crying to be fed, and you ask yourself, ‘Can I feed them and start the coffee before I have to go find a public bathroom?’ Our water still runs, but nothing can go down the drain or it’s going to come right back up. So we shower at Moriello Pool, or at friends’ houses, and we wash dishes in the back yard.