Boston’s sewer system, one of the oldest sewer systems in the U.S., struggled with private versus public ownership. When the Boston South End neighborhood was built in the 1850s, property lines arose in the middle of the alleyways. Residents then had a choice to turn their alleys over to the city or maintain private ownership. Consequently, some Boston alleys are private property and some are public.
The owners of the private alleys are responsible for maintenance including sewer infrastructure. For some property owners, the alley maintenance is too far overdue and costly. Now private owners seek to turn their alleys over to public maintenance, but the repairs are costly making the city reluctant to take ownership of the alleys.
Recently, a South End sewer built in 1863 had a collapse resulting in raw sewage in the alleyway. As a private alley, the owner was responsible for the maintenance. Etta Rosen, the owner, did not even know the alley was private when she purchased her home. At the time of the collapse, she called the sewer department for assistance and learned the sewer was private. According to Boston 25 News, the members of the South End Forum are meeting with the Boston Sewer and Water Commission (BWSC) next week with the hopes of convincing the BWSC to take over the private sewers and alleys.