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Sewer cleanout spawns insurance stink

News editor

Hillsboro and Marion residents are aware, for the most part, that their respective public works departments are in the midst of three-year projects to clean the town sewers with pressurized water.

Each is doing a third of its town at a time, ridding the lines of residues of what one normally would expect to find in a sewer, and more.

“I was just blown away by the amount of sand that came out,” Marion city administrator Roger Holter said. “It was like 20 tons of sand.”

With fresh water jetting through the pipes at 1,500 pounds per square inch and more, there’s a chance that an unsavory mix of liquid could be forced up a connecting lateral line toward a house. It’s not common, and exceedingly rare for newer homes with sewer lines equipped with backflow restrictor valves, but sometimes water makes it all the way into a house.

“In rare cases, it can cause a sewage backup into a toilet,” Holter said. “It’s something that’s possible. Older homes that we have in both communities, there’s probably a greater portion that does not have a backflow on the sewer than does.”

Hillsboro city administrator Larry Paine knows all too well that backups can occur.

“Something probably happened at my house, because when the guys were doing thier work, there was water around the toilet,” he said.

Hillsboro resident Randy Hagen knows, too, and at his house it was more than a little seepage.

Hagen wants the city to pay a portion of the $9,400 it will cost to repair damages in his basement caused, he claims, when the city was cleaning sewers in his neighborhood.

Paine said the city doesn’t dispute that sewer cleaning was done in the Hagan’s neighborhood in September, nor the possibility that water backed up in a basement toilet and shower.

What’s missing, according to the city’s insurance company, is “photographic or physical evidence,” and a specific date when the incident occurred, Paine wrote in a memo to Hillsboro council members.

The insurance company denied the claim, noting that the city had been operating its equipment within the scope of its guidelines, and that Hagen hadn’t reported any damages until several weeks after the cleaning had been done.

Hagen was at Tuesday’s Hillsboro council meeting to renew his claim, maintaining that he hadn’t received prior notice sewer cleaning was being done.

“I just think insurance should cover it; it’s something that should happen,” Hagen said. “This whole thing has been very confusing to me. I don’t want to seem like a know-it-all, but it seems so cut-and-dried. If you guys don’t have protocols to set up notices you guys are going to see it again.”

Hagen said the delay in contacting the city was because he doesn’t routinely go to the basement since his children are no longer at home.

“Can we contact the insurance company and say we had not given notification, we feel a bit liable?” council member Bob Watson said.

Council member Brent Driggers pressed the issue of notification, asking if it was a usual practice.

“We try to do that, but on the other hand, Joe will go and start working on some of that stuff,” Paine said. “Supposedly we put notices out in this particular case. I can’t tell you one way or another; all I have is what Randy has to say to us.”

Council members asked Paine to contact the insurance company to get more information about why they determined the city isn’t liable.

Notification issues shouldn’t arise in Marion, where the city uses a commercial service to do its sewer cleaning.

“Regardless if they’re doing it or the city’s doing it, we notify homeowners in advance with door hangers stating we’ll be in their area doing pressure cleaning,” Holter said. “It lists the necessary precautions to take to ensure you don’t have a problem.”

Holter said Marion has had one claim referred to its insurance carrier, and there was no settlement on the claim.

There’s no easy way for homeowners to check to see if they have a backflow restrictor in their line, Paine said.

“You dig a hole,” he said. “Or your house is new enough that you watched it get installed when it was built.”

Paine said installation of restrictor valves for new construction are required by city building codes. Marion does not have that requirement, Holter said, but noted that it’s become more routine for builders to include them in their plans.

Last modified Jan. 25, 2017

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