By Noah Haglund Herald Writer
EVERETT — City leaders are set to get their first look at long-term fixes nearly three full months after a storm-related sewer backup caused millions in damage.
The progress of a sewer upgrade project in the Northwest Neighborhood is expected to be discussed at Wednesday’s City Council meeting.
Public works staff had been planning the upgrade long before intense rains on Aug. 29 and Sept. 6 caused overflows at scores of homes and businesses.
While the public works project could offer hope to people who live in one of the hardest-hit parts of town, it won’t help those in other areas. Upgrading outdated sewer systems citywide is estimated to cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Staff doesn’t expect to have a more in-depth plan ready before springtime.
Some council members had hoped to get something sooner.
“We don’t want to be sitting here six months from now waiting for options,” said City Councilman Scott Murphy, who visited affected homes in the immediate aftermath. “We want to get something sooner than that. At the same time, it is a complicated subject and it is going to take some time to come up with a list of options.”
By Thanksgiving week, the city had received 180 damage claims related to the August and September storms. Everett’s risk managers believe the cost to settle valid claims will reach about $3 million, city spokeswoman Meghan Pembroke said. The city has paid out $600,000 already.
To date, the city has accepted 150 of the 180 claims, Pembroke said. Of those, 38 have been settled completely.
Of claims not accepted, 15 have been denied and 15 others remain under review.
“We’re going to pay out $3 million on these claims and you can imagine how much repair you could have done in advance of this if you had spent the money more wisely,” City Councilwoman Brenda Stonecipher said.
The city also paid out nearly $1 million in damage claims for similar backups in June 2010 because of a heavy rainstorm.
The overflows stem from a combined sewer and stormwater system built between the late 19th century and the early 1960s. With normal rainfall, the combined flow goes to the city treatment plant. Heavy rains, however, can send untreated water directly into Possession Sound. Sometimes water flows back through the plumbing and comes up through basement toilets and drains.
The Dec. 4 council update, at 6:30 p.m., is to focus on the sewer improvement “M” project, which would aim to improve the sewers in the hard-hit area around 15th Street and Rucker Avenue.
“We’ve been working with a consultant for over a year to design the various elements of that project,” Pembroke said.
It’s yet not clear what the cost will be, now that the city has decided to separate stormwater and sewer pipes as part of the upgrade.
The project covers an area west and south of Providence Regional Medical Center Everett. It encompasses about 30 city blocks or 112 acres. The neighborhood is almost entirely made up of single-family homes.
The city hopes to begin the bidding process early next year, Pembroke said.
A separate project, known as the Sewer N upgrade, would aim to improve sewer systems west of Legion Golf Course. It’s targeted to be under construction in 2016 or 2017.
Other potential upgrades have been identified for the Rucker Hill area, which also saw heavy damage after the recent storms.
As an interim fix, city staff has looked at plumbing at 95 flooded properties and recommended they be upgraded with a backwater valve. The city will pay for the work, which was expected to accelerate in December.
The backwater valves will be installed by area plumbing companies under contracts with the city.
A sewer comprehensive plan update will lay out long-term options, including full sewer and drainage system separation, and cost estimates for those improvements.
The City Council will give staff direction on shaping the sewer plan. That process is unlikely to start before springtime.
“Obviously, the ability for a city to provide sanitary sewer services is pretty basic and fundamental,” Stonecipher said, “so we definitely need to get this right.”
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Everett public works staff plan to provide the City Council with an initial update about long-term sewer fixes at the next regular council meeting, which is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. The address is 3002 Wetmore Ave.