City pays $250 to resident whose toilet sprayed sewage all over her bathroom

By Ralph Echtinaw

City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to pay $250 to Michigan Avenue resident Karen Aumaugher after a routine sewer cleaning “turned my toilet into a fountain and sprayed sewage all over my bathroom,” Aumaugher said.

The incident was blamed on a process called jet cleaning and an unusual configuration of the sewer connection to Aumaugher’s house.

DPW personnel routinely clean sewer lines throughout the city and take about five years to do the whole city, then start over.

Aumaugher said the same thing happened five years ago.

“It’s not an act of God,” she told city council. “It’s an act of man. I can’t protect myself. I need help here. I don’t think you understand how violent this is. If this happens again I’m not going to be very nice.”

City Manger Kurt Giles said “there are other homes that might be prone to that sort of thing, too.” One on Locust Street was mentioned specifically. “As those situations are encountered, we will continue record keeping and refining procedures to avoid similar situations in the future,” Giles said via email.

It was agreed that only flush cleaning will be used on Aumaugher’s sewer line in the future, and if jet cleaning is needed city personnel will prepare her bathroom to contain the sewage.

Councilman George Kubin asked Aumaugher how much she wanted for compensation. She said her water pick and sonic toothbrush were ruined, and she’d like the money to replace them. Kubin suggested $250, and Aumaugher agreed.

“We apologize for this,” said Giles.

During council comments time Roger Collison said the settlement with Aumaugher should not be considered a precedent for others with similar problems and that future cases should be handled individually.

Councilman Tom Reed and Mayor James Kelly say they’re glad he bought it up and agreed.

“That’s a good one, Roger,” said Councilman Bill Leonard. “I was thinking the same thing myself.”

How sewer cleaning works

DPW Superintendent Mark Abbott explains: “Our Vactor sewer truck uses a 1-inch hose that has a ‘jetter’ head on the end. There are holes on the back side that spray water at about 2,000 PSI to pull the hose up the sewer main. While doing this the water spray breaks up and pushes the solids down line in the pipe. It can also be pulled downline to wash the pipe. This is a typical operation done all over the world in sewers.

“The flushing operation uses our tanker truck that is a hand-me-down from the fire department. The tanker truck holds about 1,800 gallons, and we have customized the back end to double duty as a sewer flusher and also a chloride spreader bar that is used for dust control on gravel streets. When we flush a sewer we go to the dead end of the sewer line (most uphill location manhole) and dump water into the manhole. This water washes sewer solids downline to get them into a better flowing section of the sewer system. Dead ends have low flow as there are few houses contributing water. This operation needs to be done more often than jet cleaning due to the low pressure aspect of gravity only vs. 2000 PSI of pressure.

“The incidents of spraying up in a bathroom is rare in my experience, I only remember four or five in my 21 years here.”

Farmers market

City council informally ruled out Clapp Park as the site of the permanent farmers market without an official vote.

The city has been searching for a permanent location for the farmers market that has been set up on Thursdays in the city hall parking lot for several years, and Clapp Park is a good site because the city owns it. It’s flat ground. And it’s near downtown.

Three other locations have been identified, but the Parks and Recreation Commission voted 4-3 to approve Clapp Park specifically.

“It wasn’t a ringing endorsement,” said DDA Director Phil Hansen. “I’m not pushing either way. Just go ahead and decide if that’s where you want it. If not we can go on to somewhere else.”

Hansen noted that Parks and Rec commissioners haven’t had as much chance to talk to people and see what they think about permanent locations for the farmers market on account of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Council members were generally favorable about Clapp Park as a location until they heard that a third of it would have to be paved with several trees coming down.

Reed and Leonard went on record as being 100 percent opposed. “I don’t want to see any pavement in that park,” Reed said.

“I’m totally against it also,” Leonard said. “We know what’s going to happen with the youth of America coming across there. There’s going to be vandalism.”

“I’m pretty neutral on this,” Kubin said. “I’m not really against it. I’d like to see that park get more use.”

“I don’t think there’s enough support to go ahead with it,” Collison said. “Maybe it’s best to look somewhere else.”

Hansen said that the idea of having something (but not necessarily a farmers market) in that park is a good one. “A lot of the people that talk to me say it doesn’t get used that much.”

Leonard disputed that, saying that he drove by the park after buying a lottery ticket at Manny’s Marathon, and there was a family of 10 using the park.

So it’s back to the drawing board for the Parks and Rec commissioners. “We’re going to do it somewhere,” Hansen said. “There’s no doubt about that.”

The other locations under consideration are city property on M-46 next to Seeley Auto Sales, the west side of North Mill Street in the 300 block and at city hall (which is where the farmers market currently sets up).

Orchard Hills water

About 60 homeowners in Orchard Hills will see their water bills reduced drastically after city council finalized an agreement with Pine River Township.

Residents there have been paying twice what city residents pay for water since 1950 but will now pay just 25 percent more under the new agreement.

“There are approximately 50 existing customers and potentially 11 more that could be served by the municipal system that are currently using private wells,” Giles said via email.

The issue had been discussed from time to time over the years, Giles said, but came to a head once EPA personnel working on the Velsicol site proposed hooking up 11 homes that had well water.

“We believed there needed to be some uniformity in charges for the new and existing customers and consistency with the earlier agreement with the Township,” Giles said.

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