In Your Corner: Residents Pay After City Pumps Fail

By Ryan Elijah

October 8, 2010 Updated Oct 8, 2010 at 11:47 AM EDT

Some Fort Wayne residents are still cleaning up from severe weather that swept through the area on July 18th. They say they shouldn't be stuck with thousands of dollars of clean-up costs since it was the city's pump station that failed.

"the power went out, you could just hear the water gushing", said Doneen Hedrick, who lives at Columbia/Morton.

That gushing water left over a foot of raw sewage in the Hedrick's basement and was shooting up a few feet from a toilet. Since that sewage is hazardous waste, the Hedricks and nearly a dozen other neighbors had to pay for an expensive cleaning process. The losses range from a few thousand dollars to nearly $15,000.

On July 18th, the problem started at the city's Morton Street Pump station, the storm knocked out it's primary power and also it's back-up power, causing the pumps to fail.

Most homeowners policies will not cover this type of damage unless the policy has a sewage back-up rider included.
6 residents filed a tort claim with the city of Fort Wayne and were told to get estimates of their damage. Weeks later, a letter arrived from the Risk Management office stating all of the claims were denied. While the letter was sympathetic, it stated that the pumps failed from "an act of nature" due to heavy rain, strong winds and lightning. It also cited state code 34-13-3.

Frank Suarez, Public Information Officer for the city of Fort Wayne said, "it's very rare that both would fail because they're connected to different part of the community. The back-up is connected to a source that is not in that area".

The Lakeside Park area neighborhood is no longer in a flood zone and this is the first time they've ever had water in their homes going back nearly 20 years. While they're disappointed with the decision, some of the residents seem to be more frustrated by the process, one that they feel left them with little recourse.
Neighborhood resident Bruce Allen said "we feel like we were led along by the city. The city decides this and we don't have a realistic recourse."

"it puts the cost on us is what it does when this happens and they can basically just wash their hand of this and say, 'we're sorry'. It seems both power sources are fed by the same source and there was no generator". said Jennifer Stevenson after her basement received over $6000 in damages.

"we don't want this to happen again anytime soon, we're afraid to put our basements back together", said Doneen Hedrick.

Frank Suarez said, ""They really do truly review the process and look at the claims, if you don't submit a claim, you have no chance of getting it paid".

The city feels it won't happen again, but said putting a generator at the site is simply too costly. The sewer back-up problem is certainly not unique to Fort Wayne, and in almost all cases, unhappy residents are the end result. INC found a similar sewer dispute is likely heading to litigation in Gibraltar, Michigan. Also in 1999, Bloomington, Indiana appealed a lower court ruling that questioned whether the city was immune from the sewer damage as cited in the Indiana Code 34-13-3. The Appeals Court remanded the ruling back to the trial court.




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