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Damage Claims Mount From Weekend Storms

Flood damage reports from heavy weekend rains that overloaded storm and sometimes sanitary sewer systems were expected to continue streaming in all week.
Charlie Schlenker
Flood damage reports from heavy weekend rains that overloaded storm and sometimes sanitary sewer systems were expected to continue streaming in all week.

Municipal leaders and companies that restore flooded property said Tuesday they expected new reports of damage related to exceptionally heavy weekend rains to continue accumulating through the week.

In Bloomington, the city has learned of more than 1,000 homeowners and business owners who’ve reportedly sustained storm damage and made an inquiry to the city about it, City Manager Tim Gleason said Tuesday morning.

The Town of Normal did not have a number Tuesday afternoon, though Public Works Director Wayne Aldrich said it was far less than in Bloomington, in part because there was less rainfall in Normal.

The source of the problem is sometimes not clear, said Gleason—whether it was groundwater seeping in through a basement wall or backed-up sewage. If a resident suffered damage due to the storms and feel the city bears any fault, they can file a claim by calling PMA Companies (the city's claim administrator) at (800) 476-2669.

“We know an event like this can fall into the category of an ‘Act of God.’ But we also know that in some of these instances, there have been known problems. So, we’re encouraging anybody who thinks they may have a claim to at least make that claim, so our third-party administrator can look at those on a one-by-one basis,” Gleason said. “We do know this was a widespread event.”

Menold Construction and Restoration out of Morton is one of several firms are working to address damage. Menold’s case count as of Tuesday afternoon topped 500, and about 100 of those involved sewer backups. The company said its usual workforce of more than 70 people already was fully committed by Monday morning, and the company brought in another 30 workers from Kansas City to supplement efforts.

Cleaning up sewage

Steve Driscoll, Menold’s business development manager, is a certified restorer. Driscoll said this is the highest number of sewage backups he can recall dealing with since the Illinois River flooded in 2013. He said people should not go into basements that have had sewage backflow.

"Sewage is considered in some cases to be a blood-borne pathogen. There could be anything from hepatitis to the unknown of what's in there," said Driscoll, adding families with sewage should consider moving to temporary quarters.

"Number one, don't go down there, ok? Number two, one of the first things we're going to do is shut down the heating and cooling system while we are working. Whether they physically live there or not is up to them, although we absolutely recommend you not put yourself in that situation," said Driscoll.

He said circumstances varied. Some clients reported minimal sewer involvement. Others had fecal matter and paper products in their basements.

Driscoll said sewage complicates cleanup. It involves special equipment for workers that slows the process, including masks and protective suits. It also requires removal of all porous material, cutting drywall down to the studs well above the water line, and then using disinfectant and cleaners to sanitize the area. In some cases, he said workers use steam because no pathogen can survive above 160 degrees.

One of the reasons there were so many sewer backups is that older sections of Bloomington have combined storm and sanitary sewer discharge lines, Driscoll said.

Bloomington Public Works Director Kevin Kothe agreed a significant portion of the city has that issue.

"The newer sections of Bloomington, say from the late '50s, early '60s that were constructed after that, have separated sewers," said Kothe.

Kothe said the city does separate those lines when rebuilds happen, but there is a lot of infrastructure to change out.

"It's going to be a lot of money. I think the Locust-Colton Phase Two project was right around $4-5 million for that several block area," said Kothe, adding the city tries to do a sewer separation project of that scope every few years.

The Town of Normal said it largely has separate storm and sanitary sewer outflows. Normal also benefited from significantly less rainfall than parts of Bloomington. Menold’s Steve Driscoll said the damage reports clustered in Bloomington and thinned out further north and into Normal.

Another contributing factor to the volume of water overloading the system, Driscoll said, is illegal sump pump connections. Decades ago, it was legal to attach sump outflows to the sanitary sewer system. When the law changed, people were supposed to convert to above-ground exit points, but many still have not.

Driscoll said some communities have required photographic evidence of legal outflows, done property inspections, and even fined residents who have not done the work, though in many communities it remains an issue.

Driscoll said another surprising thing from the weekend water issues in the Twin Cities is how many commercial properties had water damage.

“Typically when have a storm impact like this, about 95% would be residential homes, and I’m going to say about 80% were residential. It was a completely different dynamic with this storm."

He cited one government building in the southern part of Bloomington that had a new parking lot and six correctly installed drains. He said there was so much rain, mulch washed off adjoining beds, clogged the drains, and caused the building to flood.

Driscoll said even if an event has never happened before to someone with a long ownership of a property, he urges owners to consult insurance agents about appropriate coverage levels for backup sewer and drain, or sump pump overflow coverage. He said flooded basement restoration costs not uncommonly can run $12,000 to $20,000.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
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