By: Korie Marshall

Sometime early Friday evening, Donna Duerkson found sewage backing up in her 8th Avenue house’s basement. She called the Village of Valemount’s office number, and a recording gave her a toll-free number for Public Works emergencies, but when she called that number, the lady on the other end of the line said they don’t cover Valemount.

“I went into panic mode,” Duerkson told me, sitting on her front step on Monday afternoon. She called some Public Works staff she knew, but got no answer, and she even forgot her neighbour worked for the Village. She called the By Choice carpet guy to get the water sucked up and drove around the village looking to get a hold of someone from the Village office, and finally found someone. Meanwhile, the lady from the toll free number was calling her back, trying to apologize and say they do cover Valemount.

Duerkson says she had the mess cleaned up, and wasn’t going to put it through insurance, since it was just a few hours of time for the carpet clearer. She went to bed that night, thankful she was home this Labour Day long weekend, and it wasn’t any worse.
Saturday morning was a different story.

Duerkson figures sometime between 6:40 and 8:00 am, she started smelling sewer. And this time when she went downstairs, she could see the dark liquid seeping across the floor, about to reach her carpets.

She again called the toll-free number, and got a different person, who again told her they don’t cover Valemount.

“This time I just said, fine, I know what to do,” says Duerkson. She sent her husband next door to talk to Danny Schnell, and that is when Schnell realized the sewer back-up was in his basement too.

“The worst part,” says Duerkson, “is I overheard village staff saying it was an electrical problem they knew about two weeks ago.”

Anne Yanciw, Valemount’s chief administrative officer, said Tuesday morning that diagnosis and repair of electrical issues in a high voltage environment like this lift station must be done by a certified electrician. She said the problem was a faulty breaker which tripped on Friday night, causing the lift station to stop working.

“Public works crew was able to reset the breaker and get one side of the lift station pumping that night,” said Yanciw. Without an electrician on site they could not diagnose what had caused the breaker to trip. Sometime during the night, the breaker blew completely says Yanciw, again causing the lift station to stop working.

“We are not certified to check these issues, so we knew nothing of the problem with this breaker before it tripped,” Yanciw said.

Duerkson, who also works at the local insurance office, says she got the insurance claims of some of her neighbours on 8th Avenue and across the alley on 9th ready on Saturday, and adjusters and clean-up crews have been at some of the affected houses, but not all of them.

Schnell says his family is staying at a hotel, because he doesn’t think any work-crew or adjuster had arrived yet, through what he thinks was a miscommunication. He doesn’t want to risk his wife or his young children’s health, and he’s also worried about his cat, who is still in the house. He said he doesn’t think there was anything Public Works staff could have done without having a pumper truck available in the village; it just happened too fast.

In a news release on Saturday afternoon, the Village said the problem in the Dogwood Street sewer lift station that resulted in sewer backing up into some homes on 8th Avenue was the result of a failed electrical breaker, and had since been fixed. It advised those impacted to contact their insurance companies as soon as possible.

Noreen Saul, who lives on 9th Avenue, said over the weekend they’ve had some sewage water come into their basement, but she thinks the backflow valve kept most of the sewage out. She wasn’t sure yet how much it would cost to repair the damage, or if it was worth going through insurance because of the deductible. Saul thinks some other residents on 9th were also affected, but some of them are away – and might not even know of the issue yet, as of Monday afternoon.

Duerkson said the cost to her now is the deductible on her insurance, as well as losing her claims-free discount for three years, plus her own time. She says the work crews told her to stay out of the basement, but she could still smell the sewer, even after the carpets were removed and the crews left an industrial dehumidifier and air purifier. She says the sewer backed up in her house before, in the late 1980’s, a week after she bought the house. She thought the new sewer system was supposed to prevent it from happening, but that doesn’t mean she canceled the sewer-backup clause on her insurance.

“It would be nice if the Village would say they’d cover our deductibles,” said Duerkson.

The release from the Village says some homes may have been protected by backwater valves which prevent sewer backups from entering the home. Valemount’s bylaws currently require backwater valves be installed in any new homes to protect from sewage backup events.

Information on the device and its installation on the Village’s website says the cost of installing a backwater valve in a new home is about $150 to $250, “while the cost of retrofitting a valve ranges from $1,000 to $2,000, if not more.” More information is also available from Dean Schneider, the Village’s building inspector, at [email protected]. Yanciw also noted that backwater valves need annual maintenance in order to operate properly.