Backed up line takes joy out of Christmas

Christopher Gooding
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"I've just had the worse Christmas ever."

SPRINGHILL: "I've just had the worse Christmas ever."

Robert Brown's household was going about its daily routine the night before Christmas when his wife noticed something was not quite right with the laundry. Her whites were white but the wastewater wasn't leaving the house. In fact, Brown says, the water was backing up in the line.

The next thing he knew raw sewage was backing up and his sump pump began working around the clock to keep the nasty goo from flooding into the basement of his McFarlane St. home.

Calls to the dept. of public works, Brown says, over the holidays went unanswered.

"I called three times and on Christmas I hired [someone] to clean the line," Brown said.

Fearful his sump would burn out Brown says he was relieved to have the line flowing again but says little can be done to remove the sour taste the experience has left in his mouth and is concerned his neighbours will someday experience the same series of unfortunate events.

And chances are, Town Engineer John Kelly says, they will.

"I call it my 'hill street blues,'" Kelly said.

Much of the sewage lines to and from hillside homes in Springhill are old crock pipes prone to issues. The clay pipes, Kelly says, are some of the town's oldest infrastructure. The town has taken a proactive stance on maintaining and repairing the lines, Kelly says, and installs manholes when opportunity presents itself to make future maintenance more efficient.

For Brown, the backed up sewage line was not the first woe he's experienced. In 20001 he had to replace his sump after just a few years of use and not so long ago was calling on the town to check his line when, he alleges, an article of clothing was found clogging the pipe.

Effectively communicating the need for immediate maintenance, however, is key to preventing the same unfortunate experience the Brown household suffered and Kelly says he understands why things took so long during the holidays for a proper response from his Department.

According to how the Department's listings are found in the phone book, Kelly's contact number is first in line. The emergency number, simply listed as the Main Line, comes second. It's that 597-3832 number Brown and any other Springhill resident in need of quick response from the department wants; not his. If no one responds to the 3832 line it is transferred to the Springhill Police Service's dispatcher who in turn tracks down the right people to respond to the complaint.

At the time of the Brown mishap anyone calling Kelly's line would have received his voice mail. The first call on Kelly's voicemail when he returned to his office, he says, was Mr. Brown.

"Just the timing of the whole things was not good," Kelly said. "It was the holidays, we had water breaks and people out of the office. It's extremely unfortunate."

Determining who will be responsible for the cost of clearing any line, Kelly says, is also a factor people have to consider. The department does have a camera it can thread through sewer lines to determine where a blockage has occurred. If it's on the business end of your home, he says, it becomes your cost. If it's in the main sewage line it becomes the town's cost.

"Sometimes we can't tell but it's the only way to prove who's problem it is," Kelly said.

Brown says he doesn't know what he would have done had he not found an independent contractor to clear his home's sewage line but says he feels he is not the only one who has had trouble such as this in the past. The question for him isn't so much why it took so long to get a response from the public works department but rather why sewage lines in his neighbourhood are becoming clogged in the first place.

The answer, he suspects, isn't pretty.

Organizations: Springhill Police Service

Geographic location: SPRINGHILL

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