Sewage Fills Arlington Home, City Looking Into Liability Issue

Following 12 hours of rain, Renee Nelson watched Saturday as feces and toilet paper filled the street outside of her Arlington home with no idea the same thing was happening in the crawl space right under her feet.

"It just sounded like you had your tub on. It was just coming out of the hose," said Nelson.

"Our system is designed to handle sanitary sewer flow and not rain flow," explained Arlington Director of Water Utilities Craig Cummings. He said the problem was at a manhole about 4 blocks away. The city is still investigating what caused it to fill with storm runoff.

Cummings said the city inspects 20 percent of its pipes every year and there were no issues until recently.

After the city responded that the overflow had been caused by excess rainwater in the sewage line, Nelson believes a busted sewage pipe was to blame for the several inches of water that quickly rose towards her floorboards before spilling out into both her yard along with a neighbor's.

"There was water just pouring out the side of my house near my air conditioner. It's just tons of water and then it smells," said Nelson.

She said the city responded and spread a sand like mixture along the perimeter of her home to dry things up. But when she asked about cleaning up the waste she believes is still underneath, she was directed to the city's claims department. Nelson said she called Monday, and though she received a couple of calls back, she was frustrated to still have no answers or resolution by Thursday morning.

"Believe me, I feel for this particular resident. Who would want any kind of sanitary waste underneath their crawlspace or anywhere," Cummings asked, but said he doesn't think the city's pipe is to blame for Nelson's flooded crawlspace. "It would appear at this time that the defect is in her plumbing in her crawlspace."

NBC 5 asked several neighbors in the 1000 block of West Tucker whether they had a similar issue, and were told they did not.

Nelson and her family felt forced to vacate their home due to the smell; first form the sewage, the from the disinfectant the city put down. She continued making calls within the city, county and even at the state level.

"I've talked to basically the people who answer the phone. You know, 'Oh. That's so terrible. Here let me give you this phone number. Oh, that's terrible here let me give you this phone number'," said Nelson.

When Nelson tried to file a claim with her homeowner's insurance, she was told the situation didn't qualify since the sewage water didn't actually enter the home. A plumber she called also couldn't offer any help.

"They were like, 'No one would go down there because if they get down there and start messing with the pipes and it rains Saturday and something happens, then now they're liable'," said Nelson.

It's left her not only with a mess but with an open pipe under her home she worries will dump more waste the next time it rains.

"I'm having a really hard time getting up and going, 'Ok. Here we go again. We'll see what we can do. We'll see who can call us back.' It's been a nightmare," said Nelson.

After NBC5 reached out to the city Thursday morning, Nelson received a call back from the claims department telling her they'd have a response to her by Friday or early next week.

The city also released information to residents Thursday about Saturday's overflow saying, "An environmental inspector was called and determined there was not an environmental hazard to the nearby creek on Saturday because the water leaving the cleanout was primarily rainwater. Traffic cones were placed in the area to warn residents to avoid the overflow until the line returned to normal flow and crews disinfect the area of the street affected."

The city went on to say the sewage line had some blockages downstream of that event on Tucker Boulevard which crews worked to remove earlier this week. Though none have been found upstream, they're continuing to investigate what allowed rainwater into the sewer.

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