Sewers storm into Dublin homes
T hree homeowners are still working to repair their homes from the six inches that rushed down on Dublin more than two weeks ago.
This is due to inflow and infiltration on the aging sewer lines that still need to be replaced. Public Works Director Cory James said water likely entered into the system on old clay tile pipe to be replaced on N. Post Oak. This line feeds into a lift station on Preston Lane, where the houses were affected.
Ron Swanson remembers going to sleep that night and waking up at about 2 a.m. to gurgling sounds, which he initially attributed to a hot water tank.
When he looked into his bathroom, he discovered that his bathtub was filling with sewage at approximately an inch per minute. He called the city to report the problem and immediately started trying to bucket the waste outside of his home, but it was seeping too fast.
It overflowed the tub and flooded onto the floor, where it started traveling up the hall.
Swanson went outside, where a public works employee had arrived and asked if he had removed his cleanout cap. Upon discovering it was still on, the worker went to remove it from his house and saw two of his neighbors, who were also experiencing the problem.
One of these neighbors was Ben Newton, whose house was hit harder by the surging sewage.
The residents got another shock when they realized that insurance companies don’t cover backups from the City unless specifically request. Swanson was told this by his adjustor immediately.
Newton was initially promised that he would be covered. It wasn’t until all of his possessions were put into storage for sanitation that his insurance called again to say they were wrong about his coverage.
City Manager Nancy Wooldridge visited the homeowners the next day and assured she would check if the City’s insurance carrier, TML, would handle some of the costs.
Wooldridge said in an interview Friday that she wanted to do what she could but didn’t hold out much hope.
When she lived in Indiana, the sewer backed up into her house while she was on vacation. They came home to four inches of sewage on the floor. She remembers having to pay all of the repair costs and the Dublin residents now find themselves in a similar situation.
“I was told by TML that it was an ‘act of God’ and they weren’t covering it,” she said.
Swanson disagrees with the assessment and said he feels the City should assume at least part of the blame.
“If I could just get half relief,” he said. “This was a situation where it was a mechanical failure. It’s just like if I ran into a City building and said, ‘Well, my insurance doesn’t cover it.’”
Swanson did report that Wooldridge referred his situation to the City’s public adjustor to see if he could offer any advice.
This is not Dublin’s first problem with INI but it was more prevalent five years ago before the City began its repairs of 17 miles of aging lines.
“We are now talking about hours of overflow instead of days,” James said.
James reported that six miles have been repaired so far with much of this funded through grants. Another $2.9 million grant has just been approved and the City is waiting on engineering plans before work continues.
James hopes this grant will fund another six miles of line replacement to further alleviate issues like this. Two months ago, a line on Highland collapsed, prompting emergency repair and a change in the order of which lines would be replaced.
The new plan calls for replacement of lines on Blackjack from Harrell to Johnson and on Highland from Ella to Belfast next.
James and Wooldridge offered that the backup might have been prevented if the clean-out caps had been removed as soon as it started. Wooldridge admitted that few homeowners are aware this is something they should do.
The need for cap removal could be skirted by the installation of something Swanson found at a neighbor’s house who didn’t suffer a sewer backup that night: a backwater valve.
The spring-loaded cap allows rushing water to pass through the pipe in a flooding situation while rainwater from above keeps it closed tight.
“It’s a pretty ingenious device that’s saved people a lot of headaches,” James said. “It’s unlikely that a well-maintained backwater valve will malfunction.”
James said it’s also beneficial for homeowners to know where their cleanout caps are if any issues occur. He also asked any Dubliners to report water rushing into holes in the ground to City Hall (445-3331) because that could be floodwater entering the sewer through broken pipes or clean-outs.