Petersburg woman and her son battle sewage excess for three months

The first time Bertha Moss’s sewage backed up, she was absolutely shocked.

Brown, rotten sewage gurgled in her bathtub, toilet, and washing machine on her Halcun Drive home. Moss’s son, Wendell, immediately called Roto-Rooter, a plumbing company, to hose the drains.

Two weeks later the rancid water surfaced again. This time, the smell was so awful that Moss had to go to the emergency room because the fumes started to hinder her breathing. Moss suffers from congestive heart failure, which is a symptom of shortness of breath.

“Sometimes I really think about giving up this house,” Moss sighed. The 82-year-old first moved into her home in the early 1970s after marrying her husband. There she gave birth and raised her five children.

For the next month and a half, Moss had to move in with her son temporarily until they had enough money to hire another plumbing service. Wendell hired MA Williams, a waste disposal service in Richmond, to investigate the problem. The town’s sewer workers simultaneously visited Moss’s home, the town’s first time, to inspect the job.

The MA Williams employee slipped a camera into the sewer line and discovered the location of the blockage. The blockade was found 22 meters from Moss’s house, right in the middle of the street.

While the strike found its home in the middle of the street, in place of Moss’s house, Wendell reached out to town to finally solve the months-long problem. To his downfall, he was told it was up to his hands to lift the blockade, not the city. According to the city code, if a fault is found under the house of a residence, it is under the resident to hire the city or an outside service to replace the connecting line.

“Where no city lateral installation is listed in the city registry, the lateral installation is assumed to be installed on a property owned by a private plumbing contractor,” as stated in Code 1981 § 257-5.

In Moss’s case, the city would need $ 4,500 before sending out utilities.

Wendell contacted John Hart, councilor of Ward 7, and was initially welcomed with concern. Hart told Wendell he would investigate and contact him. Days, weeks passed, and Wendell had not yet heard a word from Hart. Wendell took it a step further and contacted Mayor Sam Parham. Still no answer.

Parham and Hart did not respond in time for publication.

After NBC 12 told the story of Moss’s situation, two donors contacted the Richmond-based news outlet to offer to pay the balance. Steve and Carol Pietryk from Richmond paid half the bill after seeing the original story, feeling compelled to help the elderly resident. Dave Tolley, a retired auditor from Henrico, followed suit and donated the other half of the bill. Sadly, Tolley died a month after contributing the money.

As grateful as Wendell was to the Pietryks and Tolley, he doesn’t believe the matter should have come this far.

“The city should have solved the problems itself,” said Wendell. No one from town reached out afterward to check in with Moss, he noted.

Moss and her son now hope that the problem does not occur again. She no longer has to deal with the disgusting water, but her son is concerned about his mother’s carpet, which covers most of her house.

“It was an emotional rollercoaster,” he said, looking back.

Tamica Jean-Charles covers all things social justice for the progress index. You can find her on Twitter @check it now. You can also reach her at

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