By: Korie Marshall
Jodi Myggland and her husband Erik are renting on 8th Avenue in Valemount, but are planning to buy the house next summer. She’s wondering if they may have to rethink that now, because they hadn’t gotten the mess from the first sewer backup on Labour Day weekend fully cleaned up yet when it happened again.
Her neighbour, Roxanne Martens called Myggland early in the morning on Sept. 24th to tell her she’d better check her basement. Martens’ husband Dennis says they noticed it in their basement at about 6:00 am that morning.
On Wednesday, the Village issued a statement saying an isolated malfunction with the Dogwood Street sewer lift station resulted in sewer backing up into a number of homes on 8th Avenue, the second incident in a month with that site.
In the release, Mayor Andru McCracken says the Village invests heavily in community infrastructure like roads, water and sewer, and isolated incidents like these remind us how integral they are to our quality of life.
“We will continue to be vigilant in ensuring the safe operations of our system, and will continue to seek infrastructure grants to continually improve on the systems in place,” says McCracken in the statement.
Myggland says they were told by the owners of her house that a backflow valve to protect from sewer backup had been installed a few years ago, but it didn’t seem to work either time. This will be the second claim – and the second $1,000 deductible on some people’s insurance – for a number of property owners in less than a month, over an issue that was supposed to be fixed, says Myggland.
Danny and Audrey Schnell’s house wasn’t affected this time, though they were one of the worst hit last time – they just got back in their house on Sept 14th, after staying in a hotel for 13 days. Audrey says it happened so early in the morning this time, she wonders if the fact that they hadn’t used their water this time might have made the difference. Amanda Gunderson’s home was hit both times, though she thinks her damage isn’t as bad as some of her neighbours. Her basement is unfinished, and she thinks they will only have to replace one small wall, but the whole thing is still “not pleasant.”
“What we managed to save last time is all done for this time,” says Petra Dewey. Donna Duerkson says the same thing. Her house was hit again, and this time she was away when it happened.
Myggland said on Wednesday that she and other affected homeowners had been contacted by Mayor McCracken. He was cutting short his trip to the annual Union of BC Municipalities meetings in Whistler to come home to meet with affected residents.
“We want to go above and beyond for the folks we let down,” said McCracken.
Myggland said only about four households were able to attend the meeting, but it sounded like the Village was looking to provide some financial help to those affected, and that the second incident may have been caused by human error.
McCracken said that a contractor was doing work on the lift station the day before the incident, but it is still unclear exactly what happened. He says it is a complex system, but backup checks designed to alert the on-call Public Works staff if there are any problems – and that alert system failed. He says there is a ball-float system that is supposed to trip when the station fills to a certain level, and public works staff will be installing a second ball-float. As a result of the meeting, and the wishes of those affected who attended the meeting, staff will be doing physical checks of the lift station at peak times, as well as a full system check each day, until upgrades are implemented.
McCracken says this lift station handles about 75 per cent of the waste in the Village, which is essentially flat, so the system relies largely on this station, though others have been replaced more recently.
“This has had a huge impact on people’s lives,” says McCracken. He says staff and Council have taken the situation very seriously since the first issue before Labour Day, and will be looking very critically at this particular lift station. “Canada’s infrastructure is crumbling,” he says, noting the Village has a reserve fund for sewer operations, but it is not enough to do all the upgrades the system requires. He says the Village has not always been chosen for past applications to federal and provincial grant programs for infrastructure, but the Village will be applying again at the upcoming intake for the federal Building Canada Fund.
The Village is asking any resident affected by the sewer backup to contact the office at 250-566-4435.