Tide turns for West Bijou sewage back-up victims

       In what appears to be favorable news for five sewer-back-up victims in the 2100 block of West Bijou Street, the Colorado Springs City Council reached a consensus Feb. 18 to ease its claims policy for cases like theirs.
        The new policy, in which individual residents will be immune from personal cost from backups if they can prove reasonable maintenance of their service lines, is expected to come before council as an action item at its formal meeting Feb. 24.
       The leniency would come at a cost - about $170,000 a year, which works out to about 5 cents a month per customer, according to Utilities estimates. Phil Tollefson, Utilities chief executive officer, said people liked his department better under the pre-1999 policy, in which customer negligence had to be proven in a backup (meaning the city usually reimbursed people for their cleanup costs).
       But the policy since then, in which the city does not reimburse in some cases even when customers have replaced or cleaned their service lines, has proven more financially prudent, he said.
       The residents in the West Bijou homes have filed claims with the city for costs of reportedly more than $15,000 resulting from the January mishap. One resident, Don Bailey, told a Feb. 12 meeting of the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN) of seeing raw sewage shooting up several feet from a toilet en route to ruining his family's finished basement.
        Ann Mitchell described frantically erecting improvised dams to keep the foul-smelling stuff from spreading throughout her house, then hastily hiring a private cleanup business - with no time to check references. “The normal homeowner is not prepared for catastrophes of this type,” she said.
       When informed of the council consensus Feb. 18, Mitchell told the Westside Pioneer she was “surprised and elated.”
       Council members, including Mayor Lionel Rivera, mentioned the West Bijou incident several times in their discussion, and, in that context, talked with Utilities staff about making the policy change retroactive to Jan. 1.
        The reason for the West Bijou stoppage is still not certain (the city says it had recently cleaned the main as part of an ongoing program), but OWN members asked Utilities officials at their meeting to consider installing bigger pipes in places because of the chance that new subdivisions “upstream,” some with 10-inch pipes, could overload the largely older, root-prone clay-type, 8- inch Westside sewer lines.

Westside Pioneer Article