by Jim Boyle
Cheri Singleton has gotten used to the sound of work crews firing up earth movers and the shrill tones as machines back up to get in position for another day’s work on Third Avenue in Zimmerman.
She remembers hearing them about 7 a.m. Monday, July 24, but when the sound of running water, but more volatile, erupted in her ear drums, she went downstairs to investigate.
“It sounded like the washing machine at first,” Singleton said. “But it wasn’t just a gurgle. It was a geyser.”
To her surprise and horror, her basement was filling with sewage. She would later find out the sludge was coming from her toilet and her only bathtub in the home, and it would flood the entire basement in a matter of several minutes.
She dashed around her house, whipping on the first pair of pants she could get her hands on and pulling on her shoes before taking off down her ripped-up street, screaming for work crews to stop.
They told her there was no way anything they were doing would cause what she was experiencing.
By day’s end, Service Master was called out to her home, city of Zimmerman officials came out to investigate, and the Zimmerman City Council heard from Singleton for the second meeting in a row.
Zimmerman City Council Members learned city officials had been in contact with their insurance carrier, the League of Minnesota Cities, and the organization had an adjuster scheduled to come out on Friday, July 28.
The Singletons, meanwhile, checked into the Country Inn and Suites in Elk River while the mess was being addressed and they begin a long wait to get back into their home.
Mayor Dave Earenfight inquired if the upstairs was livable and Singleton said the stench alone made it unlivable. Also, the bulk of the living space was in the basement; there are no bedrooms upstairs and the only bathtub is downstairs.
When the house will become livable again is not yet known, but Singleton asked the City Council for help with food in the interim.
Council members agreed to provide $100 a day from the city for seven days with plans to reassess where things are at in a week.
Singleton had been before the council on July 10 to complain about the communication to her family about the road project going on in front of her and her husband’s home at 12595 Third Ave.
She had grown weary over situations where she hadn’t been told when access to her home would be altered, when they would have to move vehicles and when access to get back to her home had become a muddy mess.
She admitted at the meeting some progress had been made to improve communications through a resident representative, but she remained frustrated.
This past Monday’s fiasco took things to another level, though, but by night’s end, she had some comfort in the city’s response to her situation.
“I’m hopeful they will do the right thing,” she told the Star News.
The adjuster for the League of Minnesota Cities has given her limited information, which has made it difficult to know if she can purchase some clothes to get by and count on getting reimbursed.
City officials have concluded that work crews and the city were caught off guard by the fact that the home had two sewer lines servicing it.
That’s because, when the home was built in the 1970s, it was built as a duplex. One sewer line serviced the upstairs, and the other serviced the downstairs. They were separated by 30 feet or more at spots.
That was realized once city building records were pulled on the morning of July 24 to get a handle on what was going on.
C & L Excavating out of St. Joseph has been in the process of disconnecting and filling old sewer lines in order to connect homes to a new sewer line that is being laid while the road project is being done.
The excavating firm was reportedly filling the line connected to Singleton’s basement plumbing with sand on the belief it was an inactive line, according to City Administrator Randy Piasecki.
Inactive lines are filled to prevent breakage over time, Piasecki said.
Zimmerman’s top administrator said he can’t remember a time work on a road project like this has impacted a resident’s home in such an invasive way, but things like roots growing into a line, lift station failures and broken service lines from underground excavation have all have happened more than once in his years in municipal government.
“Things do happen,” Piasecki said. “No one ever imagines something like this happening, but it can and does.”
He said the insurance companies representing cities, contractors and residents typically come together and things get taken care of in the instances of routine backups, but he doesn’t have a crystal ball to know how this one will play out.
“This is a different situation, one that we have never experienced,” Piasecki said, adding the council’s decision to assist with the cost of food was a strong show of compassion on their part.
“This is not an easy situation,” he said.