By Naomi Klouda
When a giant storm front swept through the area on Jan. 12-14, Mother Nature caused a wave of damage racking up $100,000 at the city’s water sewer plant and severe damage to three private homes.
More violent weather patterns due to climate change, translated in economic terms, could be a way of the future. The City of Homer is looking at re-evaluating its insurance plan.
“The damage (at the treatment plant) was more than anticipated. We lost a lot of the components that are critical,” Public Works Director Carey Meyer told the Homer City Council. The result was a compressor that flooded, and then didn’t restart properly. The plant also lost a disinfection mechanism and then had to chlorinate.
The compressor is an air-compressor that supplies oxygen to the sewage treatment process. The normal disinfection process was damaged for about a week, so they used a more traditional method by purchasing chemicals to clean water before it could be discharged into Kachemak Bay. Fixing some of the equipment took up to a week before it could be in operation.
“We initially thought it was less than $10,000, but now it’s up to $100,000.”
The city’s insurance policy for coverage of such damage holds a $100,000 deductible. That leaves the city out cold for recouping any funds.
“We’re (running) up to 100 percent at this point, but it was a long struggle,” Meyer said. Getting fully operational took at least a week. What was critical is that the sewage treatment goes through an environmentally safe process before being fully discharged in to the bay.
The city’s drinking water wasn’t impacted. The water treatment plant is at the top of the bluff. The sewage treatment plant is behind the Public Works buildings at the bottom of Heath Street.
Still, City Manager Walt Wrede and Meyer saw it as a public health safety issue and brought the matter to the council.
Mayor Beth Wythe expressed concern that this wasn’t just a one-time occurrence, even though it’s never happened before. “The crazy weather patterns may cause this to happen again,” she said.
Meyer agreed that shifts to receiving more rain in winter could stress the facility. “The storm sent more rain into the sewer system than it was designed to accept,” he said. Manholes quickly filled and flooded.
Three houses, on Iris Court and Early Spring, were severely damaged. These were located in the lowest areas of the Mattox-area neighborhood. Houses that have a pump with a check valve didn’t flood even though they were at a lower elevation, Meyer said.
The city is paying about $3,500 to each of the tenants for their losses, an amount that the tenants do not feel begins to compensate them, said Chip Duggan, one of the tenants. Now, several of the tenants-homeowners are pursuing their options on where to go from here.
Duggan said the flooding was obviously human waste. “There were actual solid waste in my house, and in my daughter’s room,” he said.
But the city’s defense has been that it is not legally accountable for acts of nature, known as “force majeure” or Acts of God in established tort law.
Duggan doesn’t accept that the problem is a force of nature only. “I wonder what’s God got to do with it?”
Flooding like this has never happened before, Meyer said.
“What we learned from this, is we know how to keep that from happening again,” Meyer said. As climate change brings more rain in winter and higher intensity storms, the city is looking at more insurance coverage – and ways to minimize flood’s risks.
“Based on the expectation that these events will happen more often, we need to reduce the chances of water entering the sanity sewer. We can do more intensive inspections of manholes and ask the public to look at a communitywide deficiency.”
The city has more information on flooding protections at http://www.cityofhomer-ak.gov/publicworks
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