by Dave DeMars
The Sauk Rapids City Council expected it would be a quick night Feb. 22 as there was little on the agenda which would be controversial or difficult. But the problem of plugged sewers and backed-up pipes took center stage when Tom Inderieden asked what help he could get from the council in dealing with the recurring problem at 224 Second Ave. N.
The property, located across from Anytime Fitness, serves as a home for challenged residents under the care of Granite City Care.
According to Inderieden, the problem first occurred back in the late 1980s.
“Back then it was mostly gray water, not raw sewage,” Inderieden said.
Early attempts to deal with the problem met with some success, but after 2007 and commercial expansion downtown, the problem worsened and backed-up pipes became more of a problem. After the completion of the bridge project, new streets, curb, gutter and sidewalk were put in, and the problem continued to steadily worsen.
“Over the years, they have always tried to play it down and say it was in the line, but we have had AAA Plumbing and Drain there for over 15 years now,” Inderieden said, “And every time they snake the line, it’s never in the line. They run it all the way to the alley, and the city says it’s in the line. So it’s our word against theirs.”
Inderieden said throughout the years he has had discussions with numerous city officials, including the city administrator, utilities director and the former mayor. Nothing seemed to yield any positive results.
In 2008, a major backup occurred which put six inches of raw sewage in the basement of the home and three feet of sewage in a home across the street, Inderieden said. AAA came and snaked out the lines and opened things up and the city’s insurance company paid a claim for damages.
Inderieden upgraded the basement of the property after 2008, assuming the problem had been fixed.
But this year, in early January, another major blockage occurred, pushing raw sewage back into the basement of the home. AAA came again, snaked out the lines and did some inspection on the pipes which led to the sewer main. They could find no problem from the house to the main and suspected the sewage came from outside the home and backed up into the basement.
“We’re at the lowest elevation, we’re at the tail end of the line as it flows down,” Inderieden said.
Thus far, Inderieden has $4,500 in clean-up costs from the latest back-up. Carpets, doors, cupboards and interior sheet rocking have all had to be torn out. Inderieden is asking whether the city can find the resources to help pay for the clean-up and to find a permanent fix for the problem so it doesn’t occur again. What is even more disappointing to Inderieden is the city insurance carrier has denied the claim for damages, something they had paid for in a 2008 occurrence.
It’s not just the clean up costs and the remodeling that will have to be done which concerns Inderieden.
“I’d like to keep a nice clean environment for these people [the residents of the home],” he said. “These people are foster-care clients and this home fits their needs to the fullest. And so we remodeled it and put in all the necessary things so they could live in a good environment.”
Sauk Rapids City Administrator Ross Olson explained the insurance adjuster is there to examine the issue to determine if the city had any culpability as a result of neglect, failing to follow line-flushing procedures or other laxities in maintenance. In this case, the city had performed all necessary upkeep, so the insurance adjuster determined the city had no responsibility for the damage and denied the claim. It was suggested there were things other than normal raw sewage that were the cause of the problem.
Olson did express sympathy for the plight of Inderieden and commented he would have to ask legal experts to look at it, but he did not think the city could do much directly because the city no longer has the option to spend public dollars to address a problem when the city was found to be without fault.
Still, Olson said there might be some things that could be done. Possibly the claims adjuster could be asked to come back and review the situation again and see if findings might be different. Whether or not the claims adjuster was aware there had been problems at the location before was unclear. Olson thought perhaps with historical background information regarding the property, the claims adjuster would have more information on which to base a decision.
“I don’t think she was aware of it, was she?,” Olson said. “It seemed to be a little bit of a surprise to all of us. I’ll make sure I look into that to see if there is something in there that could change the decision of the insurance company.”
Sauk Rapids Director of Utilities Craig Nelson noted the system in that area had been upgraded to PVC and the lines have been cleaned once each year to try to prevent problems like the one before the council. Normal maintenance on lines like the ones in question is once every five years.
Further discussion suggested problems can result from other businesses and general use of such things as flushable-wipes, sanitary napkins, paper towels and other items which are flushed into the lines and do not deteriorate but get caught in the lines and cause back-ups. Efforts have been made to determine the source of such items, but the process is difficult.
Inderieden suggested a stop-gap solution to the problem might be more cleanings of the lines, perhaps once every two months. He said he realized there was additional cost involved, but something needs to be done until a more permanent solution can be found. The problem is affecting his business and the residents who live at the location. They have lost personal property and things which they value, Inderieden said. He also said he does not want to repair and do more in the basement of the home because it’s only been seven years since the first back-up took place. Putting in new carpeting, paneling, and closets and shelving isn’t worth doing if it is going to get flooded again, he told the council.
“Granite Care doesn’t even want to use the basement for their residents,” Inderieden said. “You don’t have to answer right now – I do not care. This has been going on for several years. I know we are doing all kinds of things in the city to improve the city and this and that, but we’ve definitely got a problem below the hill. So, when does that come to the top of the agenda?”
Olson acknowledged the problem existed, but some of the problem is related to elevation. Technology may be a problem. A shunt valve could be installed, but that would be on private property and the city couldn’t do that – not that a home owner couldn’t do that, but the city can’t go on private property to do that kind of work anymore.
“But we are talking now about what can we do, and our utilities director is reaching out to a consultant that might know something we don’t know,” Olson added.
Olson assured Inderieden that finding a solution is important to the city.
Inderieden thanked the council for its consideration and said he would wait to see what the outcome might be.
Another speaker, Henry Oerhlein, who claimed 20 years of expertise in the sewer business, took the mic to share his insights on the sewer problems. He sympathized with Inderieden’s plight, but added he understands the council does have a difficult sewage problem to deal with in that part of the city.
With closure of the open forum, the council moved through the rest of the agenda in a matter of minutes.
Author: Dave DeMars
Born and raised in Wisconsin – a “Happy Days” high school experience. Attended UW-River Falls and followed their motto – “Where the free spirit prevails.” Four years in the Army Security Agency (Spies), 31 years teaching English and directing plays. Other jobs – gandy dancer, counselor at mental institution, snowmaker, apple picker, concrete finishing, janitor, furniture mover, appliance sales, insurance sales, media sales, real estate, and writer. I am skeptical to a fault and like all human being I am more oxymoron than I am anything else. I blog at http://www.curmudgeonstwist.net/