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Bloomington Council To Discuss Financial Help For Flood, Sewage Victims

Mollie Ward at council
Emily Bollinger
Bloomington City Council member Mollie Ward wants the city to provide financial assistance to residents whose homes were flooded with sewage after heavy storms earlier this summer.

Bloomington City Council member Mollie Ward has proposed the city come up with a plan to help residents whose basements were flooded with sewage after heavy rains in late June.

Ward said the city has an obligation to help, but first the city has to figure out the full scope of all the property damage.

“I think we need to know that and then once we have taken a look at that say what’s realistic for us to be able to help with,” Ward said.

Ward represents much of northwest Bloomington in Ward 7, one of the areas hardest hit by flood damage. She said she’s heard from dozens of residents frustrated over their flooded basements. Many residents have expressed their anger to the city council during recent meetings over what they perceive as the city's negligence to fix a problem that's been going on for years.

Ward has submitted her request for discussion at the city council's next Committee of the Whole, a nonvoting meeting on Aug. 16.

Ward said she'd like to see the city establish financial help based on income levels and other factors, including insurance and eligibility for other assistance.

Ward said she's heard from some residents who said they were denied emergency loans because they don't make enough money. The U.S. Small Business Administration said Tuesday it has approved 11 home loans following the late June floods, but dozens of applications were either denied or are still under review.

Litigation possible

If the city council doesn't agree to some type of payout, the city could end up in court.

A Bloomington attorney said he plans to pursue a legal settlement with the city for damages that hundreds of residents suffered when stormwater and sewer backup flooded their basements.

Will Mahrt said he's heard from residents who have damages of up to $50,000. He said his own home near Miller Park incurred damages of up to $20,000.

Mahrt said the city should foot the bill.

“People are angry about what happened to them. It’s not our fault that sanitary sewage entered our homes and it’s not God’s fault. It can only be the city’s fault,” Mahrt said, referring to the "Act of God" defense the city’s insurer, PMA, has used to deny most damage claims.

Mahrt said he's still talking to victims, adding if there are enough of them, he could file class action lawsuits for each neighborhood where there was damage.

Mahrt said he’d be willing to accept payment to cover 20% of the damages to his home, but said he hasn’t talked to other victims about what type of settlement they might want to avoid litigation.

City officials have said they have been working to address the water and sewer overflow problem for years, but it will take nearly a decade to finish projects that already have been planned. Those projects only address a small fraction of the city's combined water and sewer lines, which span 85 miles.

Jeff Craybill speaking into mic
Emily Bollinger
Bloomington City Council member Jeff Crabill.

Bloomington City Council member Jeff Crabill said he also wants to see the city provide financial help to flooded-out residents, but he steers clear of whether the city is at fault.

“Regardless of whether the city may be culpable for it, what do we have as a moral responsibility to our residents,” said Crabill, who represents residents of the hard-hit Eastgate neighborhood as part of Ward 8 in southeast Bloomington.

Crabill hopes that can be a more favorable option for storm victims than litigation.

“What I’ve tried to tell residents is that is an option for you, but it costs money and there is heck of a lot of uncertainty,” he said.

Ward said she’d like to get financial assistance to residents “in short order.” That would require the support from a majority of city council members. Ward is optimistic that will happen.

“We have an obligation as public servants to care for the people in our community and this is the way to do it. I’m very confident our council will step up with this,” Ward said.

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