By Rikki King Herald Writer
LYNNWOOD — They worry when it rains.
When a storm hits the Casa Del Rey Condominiums in Lynnwood, sewage burbles up in bathtubs, shower drains and kitchen sinks. Sheri Cooley and her partner hurry to shower and cook dinner before the flooding.
Once it starts, they have to go to a minimart up the street, buying mints or candy so they can use the bathroom as paying customers, she said.
Casa Del Rey, a 46-unit complex on 56th Avenue W., has endured repeated sewage backups since fall 2012. Heavy storms overwhelm the city’s sewer system with rainwater, sending waste up through the pipes and into about a half-dozen lower-level units.
The condo owners and City Hall have been working together on a solution, but not everyone’s happy with the outcome.
A $5.6 million lift station is planned that should solve the problem in 2015, said city public works director Bill Franz. The city recently offered to pay $80,000 for a temporary fix if the condo owners pay $20,000. The temporary fix would include installing back-flow flaps and pumps to prevent sewage flooding until the new lift station is complete.
The city now has collected bids for the temporary fix, and the total price tag may be cheaper, Franz said.
Before the work can commence though, the city wants the homeowners to sign a legal release waiving their right to sue over future sewage problems, documents show.
The condo owners say they’ve already spent $26,000 on sewage cleanup. They say they shouldn’t have to spend any more money for problems stemming from the public sewer system.
They also say they were privately urged by city staff to speak up in support for utility tax increases so the revenues could be used to fix the sewer system.
The City Council proposed sharing the costs for the temporary fix to keep in line with state laws that ban government from spending public money on private property, Councilman Sid Roberts said.
“Everyone on the council felt horrible for Casa Del Rey, and yet we felt like we had to walk a fine line between pleasing them and meeting their need and getting sideways with state law,” he said. “I think the administration came up with a pretty good fix.”
Most of all, though, the folks at Casa Del Rey just want the issue resolved before enduring another rainy season, said Roz Smith, who’s lived in a second-floor unit for eight years. Once the agreement is signed, the pumps and other equipment could take weeks to arrive, she said.
City Councilwoman Kerri Lonergan-Dreke, whose term ends this year, has been sympathetic to the condo board. Last week, she called the city’s response “heartless.” Similar problems in Everett took weeks, not years, to address, she said.
The city is making people live in Third World conditions, Lonergan-Dreke said.
“I’m embarrassed to be representing a city that treats its citizens this poorly, and this is a perfect example of it,” she said.
The condominiums sit along Scriber Creek, just north of Scriber Lake. The sewage floods used to primarily affect a commercial property adjacent to Casa Del Rey. That property owner paid for his own fixes to divert the overflow from his land. That’s spilling sewage into the condo complex, people there say.
At least one nearby business had to close twice due to sewage flooding. The condo owners say they don’t fault the land owner protecting his property. He declined to be interviewed for this story.
When it floods now, the condo owners can’t use showers, sinks and toilets without the back-up flooding the lower-level units. The on-site laundry rooms get shut down. The problems persist for days, Cooley said.
They brought their concerns to City Council, but still feel ignored, said Eric Whitehead, an engineer and condo board member.
“We kind of just got pushed to the side,” Whitehead said. “We just kept being told it was a private matter. If we could do something, we would do something.”
The condo board also worries about the sewage going into Scriber Creek, Whitehead said.
In addition to protecting the condo buildings, the planned lift station will prevent waste from overflowing into the stream, Franz said.
The condo board members know they could file a claim and sue the city, but a previous experience with a leaky fire hydrant taught them that hiring a lawyer can cost as much as a fix, Whitehead said.
Some problems at Casa Del Rey are aggravated when people who live in upper-level condos ignore lower-level flooding and continue to flush their toilets and use sinks when the system already is backed up, said Franz, the public works director.
Lynnwood’s sewer system dates back to the early 1960s, shortly after the city incorporated, he said. Other local cities also struggle with sewage overflow after storms.
Public works staff are committed to following through on the council’s recommendation for the short-term and long-term fixes, Franz said. Construction began this summer to install a new sewer main at a similar trouble spot along 76th Avenue W., he said. That project is wrapping up.
The City Council worked closely with the city attorney on their proposed solution for Casa Del Rey, Roberts said.
“We deliberated over what was the right thing to do,” he said. “We tried to walk as carefully as we could and get it fixed for them.”
Most of the time, Casa Del Rey is a great place to live, with beautiful grounds, Cooley said. That’s why she’s stayed.
During the last sewage flooding, she asked her boss if she could sleep on the floor at work and shower there, she said. She cooked at work, too. The windstorm this past weekend made her nervous.
“Even in the summer when it rained, I had anxiety,” she said.
Rikki King: 425-339-3449; firstname.lastname@example.org.