Howard Lake Herald, January 19, 1998

Waverly may have liability in sewer claim


Waverly City Council heard resident Joe Campbell state his claim Tuesday against the city for damages resulting from a sewer backup into his home June 28.

According to Campbell, the problem was caused by a hole in a corroded galvanized pipe fitting in the city's sewer collection tank outside his home.

This fitting is part of the grinder-pump and check-valve system.

Campbell said, "The raw sewage eventually covered the lower level of our house. It was removed by a professional cleaner, who returned several times for additional cleaning, disinfecting, and deodorizing."

He said expenses total $16,385.85, but his homeowners insurance only paid $5,250.

Campbell said, if people look at their insurance policies, they might be surprised at how little is covered.

The uncovered expenses should be covered by the city's insurance policy, he said.

Allied Adjusters, Inc. of Minneapolis had a different view.

In correspondence to Campbell, the firm maintained the problem was due to the Northern States Power Company's outage during a storm and was an "act of God."

According to the insurance firm, the hole in the coupling was not enough by itself to cause the backup.

Campbell said the company representative told him over the phone there had never been a problem like this before.

In a documented history of the sewer system, Campbell presented the council with proof there had been other breaks in the lines, caused by failed connections and similar holes in fittings.

Specifically, he cited the breaks on the Rick Nolan property and Fern Coupols property. The city took responsibility for clean-up on those properties, said Campbell.

In addition to these two incidents, he referred to the holes in the galvanized nipples that occurred in the system on the Milo Grams and Gene Packard residences in 1995.

These were replaced with PVC, and the council decided to replace all galvanized fittings in sewer tanks with non-corroding fittings.

On June 28, the records show a sewer backup into the Campbell home from a hole in a galvanized fitting.

Campbell included information from Wright-Hennepin Electric Cooperative Association that indicates 30-50 power outages occurred each month in Wright County in 1997.

NSP also has records on outages, he said.

Mayor Charles Bush sympathized with Campbell's plight, but felt the city could take no action at this time.

He and Councilman Dave Fournier indicated that while the city would bring pressure to bear on the insurance company to pay the damages, Campbell should be prepared to talk to a lawyer.

Campbell said if he had to involve legal services, he would be looking for more than just the damage reimbursement.

Water and sewer

Bob Ehlers, Ehlers and Associates, was present at the Dec. 5 budget meeting to make a report to the council regarding financial issues.

He reported that the city should retain a six-month reserve to maintain a healthy financial position.

Ehlers recommended an increase in both water and sewer charges, since both funds show a negative balance.

Bonnie Young, former city clerk, said the water rates should be raised by $.34 to $2 per 1,000 gallons and sewer rates by $.70 to $2.25 per 1,000 gallons.

She said it would also be beneficial to raise the service charge from $3 per month to $4.50 per month.

Discussion was continued at the Truth in Taxation hearing, where Councilman Don Smith stated his objection to a property tax levy for water and sewer funds.

These funds are enterprise funds and should be self-supporting, said Smith.

He recommended a utility surcharge for one year be put in place.

The utility topic surfaced at the Dec. 19 special session, and Ehlers recommended the council raise the water rate to $2.25 per 1,000 gallons and the sewer rate to $3 per 1,000 gallons.

Lake residents should get a flat rate increase from $40.56 to $54 per month, he said, and the surcharge should be raised to $4.50.

In order to correct the deficit, Ehlers said the $40,000 needed for water and sewer should be included in the general revenue levy and transferred to water and sewer funds.

At such a time that these funds are self supporting, the $40,000 would be reimbursed to the general revenue fund, he said.

Ehlers recommended the city not get into land development, referring to the proposed Graham property purchase for industrial development.

He said the city has several options to pursue if it wished to purchase the property, but it has very little to work with.

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