Sewer backup devices urged for hill homes

By RAELYNN RICARTE

News staff writer

November 4, 2006

Anyone living on a hillside in Hood River is being asked by city officials to install a device that prevents raw sewage from backing up into the house.

“You could be looking at a cost of a few hundred dollars to hire a plumber now or pay thousands later — do you really want to take that chance?” asked Bob Francis, city manager.

The city’s new public awareness campaign is spurred by two major backups in recent months. Both landowners with properties near 13th Street and Montello Avenue have filed claims that total about $300,000 with Columbia River Insurance, the city’s carrier.

Agent Scott Reynier said just under $111,000 has already been paid out by the company for several other backflows within the past five years. He said state law limits the public agency’s liability to $50,000 for each claim — but the outcome of a court case can be uncertain. Therefore, he has encouraged the city to take proactive action.

“The city isn’t in a financial spot to be writing these kinds of checks. But, on the other hand, it’s really a brutal deal for a property owner,” said Reynier. “It’s (backwater valve) just really something that people should do if they live in this town.”

This week, the city held two special meetings to adopt Ordinance 1917 that requires residents along downhill slopes to install a backwater prevention device. If a property owner does not want to comply with the new code, the city can require a waiver that exempts it from payment if a problem occurs.

Francis said the backwater valves are free of charge to anyone who calls the Public Works Department at 386-2383. He said staffers in that office can also be consulted about whether the device is necessary in the area where a citizen resides.

“You should really invest the time for a two-minute phone call to see what your risks are,” said Francis.

He said the council is now seeking to educate citizens about the potential for a sewer backup. And investigate possible ways to subsidize the installation of the valve in cases of financial hardship. Francis and Dave Bick, public works director, will also be setting up an enforcement program to further compliance with the new code.

Francis said many of the city’s aging water mains are crafted from terra cotta. He said it is also time to figure out a way to pay for their replacement.

According to Francis, regular maintenance is done on these lines but problems can develop quickly if a towel or other obstruction is flushed down the toilet.

“The problem is that many people don’t take this risk seriously so they don’t take any preventative measures. But when you get raw sewage in your house it’s going to be very serious,” said Francis.

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