Lesley Sharples won’t soon forget Christmas 2013.
Four days before Christmas a rainstorm caused a sewer system backup that dumped gallons of raw sewage into the basement of her Oak Harbor home. She and her husband lost a new $7,000 furnace, washer and dryer and numerous personal items as several feet of sewer water ravaged her home.
Sharples has repeatedly visited village council to monitor progress in quelling the sewer backups she fears any time of a snow or rain fall. She insists flooding problems intensified when the Ohio Department of Transportation renovated State Route 19 a couple of years ago.
“What happens if my house collapses because the basement collapses?” Sharples asked.
She noted emphatically several times she will not pay her storm sewer bill until the problem is solved because she is not receiving the service.
Village leaders hang their hopes, for now, on a newly hired consultant, the Jones & Henry engineering firm, which is formulating a plan to submit to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. First, though, engineers are seeking a temporary permit modification to open a crucial Portage Street combined sewer overflow valve and up to four others to help relieve some of the immediate pressure.
Fixing the overall problem is likely to cost millions the village doesn’t have right now. So, village leaders hope to get an EPA blessing before the spring rains begin.
The engineers plan to focus on the permit section regarding damage to personal health and personal property. As a result, they will turn to residents and the stories they have to tell.
Wastewater treatment plant supervisor Jerry Neff said he turned over to the engineers a list of residents who have experienced flooding since September 2011.
Thirty-five homes were impacted by the pre-Christmas deluge, according to Dan Miller, a company spokesman for the Toledo office of Jones & Henry. Many of them are repeat cases from previous storm sewer overflow incidents, he said.
The engineering team won’t be conducting individual interviews. More likely, Miller said, the village will hold a public hearing where engineers can gather comments to build a strong case to present to EPA officials.
A hearing date hasn’t been set. Miller and others will travel to Oak Harbor on Feb. 27 to update the administration on its work, walk through the system and discuss strategy. The public hearing will likely be one of the subjects, he said.
Landlord Adam Snyder is among the December flooding victims. Eleven of his rental homes were hit with flooding. He said he is tired of rushing to protect property all hours of the day and fears his policy may be cancelled due to the number of claims filed.
Mayor Bill Eberle said if the village is liable for flooding, its insurance may be responsible for the residents’ deductibles. He told affected residents to have their insurance companies file claims with the village’s local representative, the Druckenmiller Agency.
Mark Sharples told council in late January he had filed a claim with the agency.
On Tuesday, Druckenmiller representatives said they could not comment on how many others residents had filed flood-related claims. The company cannot divulge any village business, staff said.
When contacted afterward, interim village administrator Randy Genzman said he didn’t know either.
At a request of The Press, he said he would ask the village’s primary carrier.
A rain storm dropped nearly 6 inches on the area Feb. 1. No one reported any flooding difficulties then, according to former administrator Robert Pauley in his final days on the job.
Mounting snow mounds combined with a warming trend and a forecast of rain pose the next serious threat.
In anticipation, village crews spent the past few days clearing debris from street catch basins to allow a clear flow to the wastewater plant. Some residents have followed suit.
Genzman said he prays for a nice slow melt.
In the end, he added, “It is what it is and we’ll deal with what comes along.”