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When sewage hits the homes

Several residences in the First Addition sustain problems

A sewer back-up into a First Addition house forced a local family out of their home in February, making them the third homeowners to suffer major damages from sewer problems since 2003 and the second to incur damages on Eighth Street.

The couple sought reimbursement through the city's insurance policy - a non-profit risk pool funded by Oregon cities - Feb. 14, according to a claim filed with the city of Lake Oswego.

The claim does not give details of the damage or estimate the cost of repairs and lodging.

A note from property owner Robert Turner, however, reads: 'Major disaster and damage to residence. Unable to live in home for two months estimate.' It also states the Turner family would seek medical evaluations.

Turner could not be reached for comment by the Lake Oswego Review. A contractor for sewer repair in First Addition, Kurt Kimsey at K and R Plumbing Construction Company, Inc., said construction issues were to blame for the incident and that a claim has been settled through that company's insurance policy.

Kimsey said heavy rains in an open trench caused the problem. K and R has been upgrading sewer pipes in First Addition as part of an effort to reduce maintenance problems, he said.

Those maintenance issues appear to have caused one other substantial backflow to a home on Eighth Street in December 2005.

Insurance claims show City County Insurance Services paid $15,429 to repair a home belonging to Steve Klauer on Eighth Street after sewage overflowed there.

Records show Klauer also received an additional $300 this year when a sewer line in an alley along Eighth Street backed up during construction, causing damage to a carpet. Klauer lives three blocks from Turner. He could not be reached for comment.

A note on an insurance claim filed for the carpet Feb. 3 states sewage overflows have been a repeat problem at the Klauer home.

In the note, Klauer wrote, 'This was a new carpet, recently replaced because of the same problem previously. Third time.'

City records provide no additional information about previous incidents. David Ford, a claims adjustor with CCIS, said Lake Oswego makes no more claims for sewer damages than other cities its size, calling the incidents unfortunate but common.

Elizabeth Papadopoulos, who heads Lake Oswego's maintenance department, said workers track problem areas, particularly where trees invade pipes.

'FAN is one of the areas where we have been recently rehabilitating the lines. It's a place that maintenance appeared to be spending an inordinate amount of time,' she said.

The K and R Plumbing contract, awarded last October, upgraded 17,000 feet of pipe, including pipes in First Addition.

'That whole project should take care of that as an issue for First Addition,' Papadopoulos said.

Repairs continue to reduce the potential for sewer overflows in other parts of Lake Oswego. A construction project in the Blue Heron and Main Canal drainage areas rehabilitated 2,600 feet of pipe in March. Maintenance work at the west end of Oswego Lake cleaned pipes in September and October.

'They were all places that we had some sort of issue,' Papadopoulos said.

In an overview of insurance claims, the Lake Oswego Review found sewer overflows account for a small portion of claims made by property owners since 2002 but represent two of the largest payments made for property damage in that time.

Property owners make an average of 14 claims annually for everything from fallen trees to sewer and water overflows. Other claims include damage to public property, personal injuries in public places and car accidents involving city vehicles.

Most sewage and water backflows reported in the last several years were minor. Yet two, including an overflow at the Klauer home, led to substantial payments for home repairs, comparable only to payments made in a small number of car accidents.

In 2003, the city paid $33,995 to repair damages to Leo Pothetes' home on Greentree Avenue - on the south side of Oswego Lake - after sewers overflowed there.

Pothetes said Wednesday that the sewage covered the lower level of his home in the 2003 backflow, destroyed personal possessions and permeated walls.

He said the repairs involved replacing walls, piping and flooring. Personal possessions were also lost and Pothetes said his family was advised to seek inoculations against hepatitis.

Pothetes said sewage has not backflowed into his home since the 2003 incident but he 'still had concerns' the problem could reoccur.

He said at the time of the incident, city employees reported maintenance as the cause of the problem. Contractors replaced a pipeline from the city system to the Pothetes home and installed a valve that would stop future backflows.

'Are we satisfied? No. I wasn't satisfied with the service I got from the city,' he said. 'We couldn't live down there, we couldn't invite friends in and we couldn't even get the city attorney or the city manager to call us back.'

Pothetes said he was frustrated with a lack of response from city officials at the time and continues to be angry as city leaders pursue a community center while the sewer system 'falls apart.'

City officials say they have no records of unanswered calls from Pothetes but did direct him to negotiate the claim through their insurance carrier.

Papadopoulos said the city continues to respond to sewer overflows promptly, even in the middle of the night.

'They are very important to us and we understand they are not a positive impact for anybody,' she said.

The city is on track to solve a capacity problem at the heart of its sewer system by 2010 and will replace a key pipeline, a job ordered by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.