Town not at fault when sewer backs up.

On May 28th, Roy Lynch, the town manager, sent a letter out with the water statement explaining that customers are responsible for damages in the case of a sewer backing up into your home. It's vague, accusatory, and attempts to blame homeowners for their own lack of responsibility (likely due to budgetary concerns). I'll try to explain all this the best I can.

Liberty's sewer system dates back to the 1920's when Roy Reitzel drilled two wells to create the towns first water works. The system has remained largely unchanged for almost ninety years and is heavily composed of ceramic pipe material which is the most susceptible type for root damage. In addition, the towns budget issues have negatively impacted the replacement of sewer and water lines, and has resulted in a lack of preventative maintenance. The most common issues are when a tree's roots breach a sewer line and restrict the flow of sewage. During heavy downpours of rain, this limited flow may create a reversal of sewage into all homes attached to the line. There are both chemical and mechanical methods for municipalities in dealing with roots to prevent such disasters, but it appears neither are being applied in a adequate preventative sense here in Liberty. You might think that you could hold the town of Liberty responsible for damages, but this letter serves as legal notice that they are not liable. In other words, you would have to file a lawsuit in order to obtain any settlement. Considering that much of Liberty lives below the poverty line, it's safe to assume they feel it's a calculated risk, but who's really right?

Well, with utilities, the responsibility of the infrastructure starts and stops at something called the Point of Demarcation (POD). In layman terms this is generally the meter (e.g. power meter, water meter, etc.). So for example, the town is responsible for everything from your water meter (typically under a cover in your yard), to the water treatment plant. The homeowner on the other hand is responsible for everything from the meter to the house. What this letter from the town attempts to do, is blame the homeowner for the consequences of the negligent maintenance on their end of responsibility. They now require each resident to install back flow protection at the homeowner's cost. This is like someone crashing a car into your home and blaming you for not installing a cement barrier.

Most homes do not have sewer back flow prevention, a sort of one-way flap valve that closes in the case of reverse flow. The cost for installing this device could range from around $500 to $5000 if cement floors need to removed and re-installed, or your yard needs to be dug up to access the pipes. According to this letter, it is now a law that you have this device installed on your home. That's right, if you haven't installed this device, according to this new ordinance referred to in the letter, you're breaking the law.


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