MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Along Hennepin Avenue between 8th and 9th Street in downtown Minneapolis, bright lights shine and traffic flows smoothly.

But down below, it’s a different and disgusting story. The Public Works Department provided WCCO with a video showing the inside of a city pipe underneath that stretch of road. The pipe’s walls are coated in thick grease.

The city said it’s because people pour their fats and oils from cooking down the drain, causing clogs not just under their homes or restaurants, but eventually city pipes.

“So your behavior might negatively impact three or four of your neighbors and ultimately result in a costly mess,” said Katrina Kessler, director of the Surface, Water, and Sewers Division for Minneapolis Public Works.

It’s a cost you might now have to pay. A new Minneapolis ordinance states that repairs to grease clogged city pipes will be billed to those who caused the problem. Kessler said over the past five years, it’s cost them more than $1 million.

“We want to make sure we can invest that money in the entire system and that it goes to benefit all of the rate payers,” she said.

Plumber Mark Ristow of Twin City Drain said cleaning clogged drains due to grease and food buildup makes up nearly half of his business. But he feels the city’s old infrastructure, including 100-year-old pipes, could also be to blame for the clogs.

“Are (the city pipes) broken? Are there lips in them? Is there something in there that’s gonna catch this grease and start a dam? But again, how you gonna identify where it came from?” Ristow asked.

By inspecting manholes, the city said it can determine the grease’s source. From there, Kessler says crews can talk to homeowners or restaurant owners about alternatives to pouring grease down the drain.

“You can wipe the pan or the pot out with a paper towel and compost the paper towel, or you can pour the grease into a tin can and let it solidify and use that as cooking additive the next time around or throw it out,” said Kessler.

Ristow offered advice on how to clean your drains regularly. He said to pour vinegar and baking soda into the drain. After it bubbles up and cleans the pipes, flush it down with hot water.

“That’s the only good preventative thing I can (suggest),” he said.

Jeff Wagner