Wilson Addition recovering from sewage backup





Tyson and Stephanie Birkholz noticed a problem around 10:15 Sunday night after Tyson went downstairs to check on laundry and his dogs.

"There was water," Tyson said.

"Sewer water," Stephanie added.

Several homeowners in the Wilson Addition of Garden City, located off Spruce Street east of the U.S. 50/83 bypass, spent Sunday night and on into Monday afternoon hauling out loads of soaked carpet and furniture trying to clean up the mess caused by a sewage pump malfunction at the city's wastewater treatment plant that caused sewage to flood into the basements of many homes.

Tyson Birkholz said he noticed the smell, but at first thought maybe one of the kids had clogged up the toilet or something. Then he looked over at the drain.

"It was just gushing out," he said. "It got to three or four inches, standing, for three or four hours. They finally got it to where it started going down."

Stephanie Birkholz said their home, which they have owned for two years, had a finished basement. They spent Monday tearing out carpeting and baseboards and damaged furniture. They also lost some clothes.

"We had Henk's come over at 3:30 (a.m.) and start sucking it out," she said, referring to Henk's Carpet & Upholstery Cleaning.

The Birkholzes aren't sure of how much the damage will cost yet, but they wouldn't be surprised if it gets up around $25,000 to $30,000 to replace carpeting, hardwood floors, doors, trim, furniture and other things that were ruined.

Oddly, while many homes saw similar damage, some neighbors, including one right next door, received no damage.

"It's like hit or miss," Stephanie Birkholz said. "The luck of the draw."

The 600 blocks of Amy, Sarah and Susan streets appeared to be affected the most by the backup. The problem began late Sunday afternoon. Reports of problems began coming in between 7 and 11 p.m.

Mike Muirhead, public utilities director, said workers at the treatment plant discovered a considerable amount of rags and debris clogging the pumps that normally get pumped through the system without causing a problem.

"The pump shut off, and the sewer backed up. When we got the first call, we started the process of checking manhole to manhole to see if there was something in the main line clogging it up" Muirhead said.

After crews checked two or three locations, the problem appeared to be headed back toward the plant. Plant staff then discovered the pumps weren't operating correctly. Muirhead said that after taking some things apart, the pumps were turned back on and began operating normally.

"They'll do their checks after the fact and make sure nothing was damaged," he said.

The reason Wilson Addition received the brunt of the backup, Muirhead said, is due to a large sewer main that follows the drainage ditch nearby that collects sewage from Wilson Addition and homes south of Spruce Street west of the bypass. Sewage backed up from the water treatment plant along that main and hit basements that were lower than the sewer line.

"Gravity is just going to push it out of the pipe," he said.

Residents along Sarah Street reported similar issues.

Brenda and Socorro Garcia said they noticed something wrong around 7 p.m. and contacted a plumber, who had a look but determined the problem wasn't in the house, it was coming from something outside. The plumber then contacted the city.

"All the basement was flooded," Brenda Garcia said. "This house and all those houses."

The family lost whatever was in the basement, but they aren't sure exactly what was lost. Sewage reached ankle height at one point.

Garcia said family members stayed at a friend's house Sunday night and Monday morning due to the smell.

"The smell was so bad," she said.

Michele Reichmuth said she and her husband, Ben, were alerted to a problem just before 11 p.m. Sunday, when a person with Lopez Restoration knocked on their door and told them about the other homes that had experienced the sewer back up.

Reichmuth said the man asked if their basement was flooded, and her husband went downstairs and discovered the laundry room had about an inch of water.

"We didn't get it that bad, but we weren't fortunate enough to not get it at all," she said. "My husband tried to sop up the water, but that didn't work."

The smell had been reduced by Monday afternoon, but the odor was bad overnight.

"It stunk," she said.

"At least it doesn't smell like it did," Linda Sherman, Reichmuth's mother, said. "According to Ben, he turned on all the paddle fans in the whole house, opened up the windows, because it was really bad."

If necessary, the Reichmuth family could stay with Sherman or Ben Reichmuth's family.

Reichmuth said her family doesn't have a damage estimate yet.

"All I know is they're tearing all the carpet out," she said.

As of Monday afternoon, 18 homeowners had contacted the city about damage, but Muirhead said no damage estimates have been prepared yet.

"We're asking everybody to keep copies of their receipts, contact their insurance. I can't speculate on what their insurance may or may not do, but we're certainly hopeful everything will be covered by our insurance," Muirhead said.

Matt Allen, city manager, said claims will be sent to the city's insurance provider, Travelers Insurance.

"I think we're going to work to try to identify the scope of the damage up front. I doubt we're obligated to turn them all in at the same time," Allen said.

Allen said the scope of the damage is still being assessed and the city, as of Monday afternoon, was contacting people affected.

"Trying to figure out, based on user reported damage, the extent of the claims, we reasonably believe it's parts of a couple different subdivisions," Allen said.

Garden City crews went through the affected area Monday afternoon, speaking with renters and homeowners to log items that were damaged or destroyed in the backup. Crews also were providing information on how to file a claim and address the cleaning bill.

The city asks those who experienced sewage back up Sunday and Monday that resulted in damage to contact their own insurance agency and follow their directions; take photos of the damaged area; keep copies of all receipts and attach them to the city's claim form; and take the completed claim form to the city clerk's office at 301 N. Eighth St.

Claim forms are available at the city clerk's office, or online at www.garden-city.org. People with additional questions are urged to contact the Wastewater Treatment Plant at 276-1281 or city administration at 276-1160.

Muirhead said the city has a pretty good handle on what happened, and had some brief discussions about installing some additional equipment outside the treatment plant at the first manhole so if something else happened, it would trigger an alarm sooner about a backup coming from the plant before it could reach the community.

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