by Mike Knaak
While most homeowners this time of year are thinking about keeping their lawns mowed and anticipating the fall leaves, homeowners in Sartell’s Oak Pond neighborhood have their minds on the future and the frozen days of winter.
Four neighbors on Oak Pond Court have struggled for years with frozen water lines during the winter and they are running out of options to find a solution.
In May, the four, Carol DeGiovanni, Sara Magee, Elaine Hanson and Debra Kellerman, spoke at the open forum portion of the Sartell City Council meeting and asked the city to fix the problem.
The homeowners say that water lines to their homes were not buried deep enough and they want the city to fix the problem.
City officials listened to the problem and then referred the claim to the city’s insurance company. In a letter dated July 26, the insurance adjuster wrote that “the city of Sartell is not negligent for the issues with the water main service line” and further stated “In order for the city to be responsible for this incident, your damage must result from a negligent act or omission by the City.”
DeGiovanni, who lives at 928 Oak Pond Court, reported a frozen water line in March 2019. After a plumber thawed the line, he reported the line was about “half as deep as it should be.”
Debra Kellerman told the council her residence was built in 2001 and the owners at that time reported they ran water during the winter from 2002 to 2015 to keep it from freezing. The city reduced their water bill as a part of a citywide program. The city ended the reduced billing after the winter of 2015. After Kellerman and her husband bought the house at 924 Oak Pond Court in October 2017, they experienced frozen pipes in February 2018.
Kellerman hired a plumber to check the water line and learned that from the cutoff valve to the water main connection, the line was buried about 4½ and 5½ feet, when general practice is to bury water pipes 7 feet deep. In September 2018, the line was repaired with the bills topping $15,000, Kellerman told the council in May.
During the brutally cold winter of 2014, arctic air pushed into the upper Midwest in early January, causing extremely cold temperatures and wind chills across the region and frozen pipes for the neighborhood. On Jan. 5, 6 and 7, there were low temperatures of -23, -24 and -22.
Magee’s water service froze in 2014 and she hired a contractor to thaw it.
Hanson’s line froze in February 2014 and it cost $400 to have it thawed.
The homeowners claim that water lines were not installed according to code and that the pipes should have been buried at least 7 feet to avoid freezing. During construction, inspectors should have made sure the lines were deep enough, they say.
A building inspector signed off on plumbing and water service. City Administrator Mary Degiovanni said the inspector only insures a proper and working connection to the service line.
A suggestion to continually run water during the winter is a poor solution, they say. Because the rate reduction ended, their water bills would increase. They also are not confortable with leaving water run in their homes while they are away.
The answer, they say, is to dig up the pipes and make sure they are buried deeper.
Magee, who lives at 916 Oak Pond Court, says the repair could cost $11,000 to $12,000. She would at least like the city to pay half the costs.
In her statement to the council, Hanson asked the city to check the depth of all the water lines in the cul-de-sac, reimburse the owners for thawing and repairs, and pay for repairing the lines to three remaining homes.
With winter coming, the neighbors are running out of solutions. Carol DeGiovanni contacted the State Auditor and Attorney General and was told to hire a private attorney, which she said she’s in the process of doing.
“I want them to take responsibility and fix it before winter,” Carol DeGiovanni said.
“We don’t want to face this every year,” Magee said. “Not being able to leave the house. We don’t want to leave water running when we’re gone.”