Archive for Thursday, September 9, 2004

Residents’ homes flooded when lift station fails

Sewage cause thousands of dollars in damage to houses in FireTree Estates

September 9, 2004

Shad England wasn't thinking about the possibility of having a basement full of sewage when he was looking to buy his house in FireTree Estates.

But it's something he's concerned about now, especially since two weeks ago -- just one week before he bought his house at 300 Flame Way -- the basement flooded with sewage twice after the city's lift station in the subdivision failed.

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As a result of the flooding, he said, the carpet, pad and some of the sheet rock in the finished basement had to be replaced before he moved in.

Though he wasn't responsible for the cleanup costs since he didn't yet own the house, England, who lives just hundreds of feet from the FireTree lift station, is afraid the lift station could fail a third time causing his basement to flood again.

"Now I'm worried about the future," he said.

England's basement wasn't the only one that flooded when the sewage lift station failed. George Frank, 309 Blaze Blvd., and Shari Kretzschmer, 301 Blaze Blvd., had a lot of damage and cleanup expense after their basements flooded as well.

All three homeowners were in attendance at Tuesday's Baldwin City Council meeting to find out exactly what went wrong and whether they were going to be reimbursed for their cleanup expenses, which range from $3,000 to nearly $6,000.

The lift station, which has only been in service since the beginning of the year, was designed to carry the flow from homes in the Signal Ridge, Parkside and FireTree subdivisions.

Assistant Utility Director Bill Winegar told the council the lift station first failed Aug. 24 when a pipe broke causing the failure of the first pump. He said the second pump in the lift station should have started working once the first one malfunctioned, but it failed as well.

Winegar said three days later on Aug. 27, the pumps quit working again.

"A pipe didn't break, but the pumps just failed to come on," he said.

As of yet, the city isn't sure what went wrong.

"We do not have a firm conclusion as to what happened," Winegar said. "Physically, there's nothing wrong with them. They just failed to come on and we don't know why."

He said the city has spent the last two weeks working with the lift station's contractor, supplier and engineer in an attempt to determine what caused the malfunction.

"This is the first time since the lift station was put in that we've had a problem with it," he said. "We don't know why they failed to come on."

Until a firm conclusion is made, Winegar said, there is no assurance it won't happen again.

"To guarantee this is not going to happen again, at this point in time, would be hard to do," he said.

City Administrator Jeff Dingman told the council the city's insurance adjuster had been investigating the incidents as well.

"A conclusive decision as to whether we are at fault has not been made," he said.

Dingman said the city's insurance will cover the homeowners' expenses only if it is determined there was a mechanical failure or human error. If the failure was caused by a lightning strike or some other natural cause, he said, either the homeowners or the city will be responsible for the costs incurred.

Should the insurance company decide not to pay the expenses, Dingman said, the council could decide to have the city pay the cleanup expenses.

Council Member Ken Wagner said before the city agreed to pay for anything, the council needed to consider the precedence covering the expenses would set.

"You feel like you need to do something here, but I don't think we've done it in the past," he said.

Dingman said the insurance adjuster was to make his conclusions Wednesday. There had been no decisions made by the Signal's deadline.

Homeowner Kretzschmer said she wanted a guarantee that the problem with the lift station would be fixed so her basement wouldn't be flooded again.

"I was guaranteed when that pump station was put in that I would be protected," she said. "What upsets me, if that station fails now and we can't figure out what's wrong, what's going to happen when we add 200 additional homes to this pump station?"

England agreed.

"I don't think it's the homeowner's responsibility to protect their house from city provided utilities," he said.

Mayor Ken Hayes told the homeowners the city would find out what caused the malfunction.

"It is just flat failing to work, and we will get to the bottom of that," he said.

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