Sewer backup devices urged for hill homes


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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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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