- Last Updated on Tuesday, 26 March 2013 19:46
- Published on Wednesday, 27 March 2013 00:42
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Property owner William Entwisle is frustrated and worried over a sewage backup issue that occurs in his basement bathroom during power outages.
Entwisle lives at 209 Monroe St., near the bottom of a hill.
Entwisle, a veteran and retired firefighter, bought the house on Monroe St. three years ago. He has fond childhood memories of his family coming to Colonial Beach for vacations and summers. As he was nearing retirement age, he decided to buy a home here and settle down.
Entwisle said that when he purchased the house, the realtor never mentioned any problems with sewer backups. So he was quite surprised the first time the power failed during a storm, and his basement was flooded with sewage backing up from his basement bathroom.
Entwisle has investigated the matter and has been communicating with the town to resolve the issue. He said that he is upset at the Town’s recommendations to install a sump pump, and/or close his basement bathroom, capping the plumbing outlets.
Entwisle feels he should not lose the use of his basement bathroom and believes the Town is responsible, due to equipment failure.
It may be a little-known fact to most, that wastewater has to be propelled out of our homes’ sewer lines by pumping stations. This moves the sewage along to the wastewater treatment plant, located off of McKinney Blvd.
In most cases when pumping stations fail, either by mechanical malfunction or by a power outage, the sewage stops moving. In time, with nowhere to go, the sewage backs up.
In Entwisle’s case, when the pump station at the end of Monroe Street malfunctions, gravity sends wastewater from the top of the hill downward. Following the path of least resistance, it bubbles out of his basement bathroom from the toilet, sink, and shower onto the floor and throughout the rest of his basement.
Entwisle is not the only resident who has experienced this issue during power outages. The property just below him down the hill belongs to the DiRosario family.
Owner Wayne DiRosario, who now resides on Monroe Bay Avenue, grew up in that house. DiRosario recalls a lawsuit filed by his father, Vincent A. DiRosario, Sr., in Westmoreland County against the Town of Colonial Beach for damages to his property in the early 1970s. DiRosario claims, in a letter addressed to “Whom it may concern” that his father wanted the Town to install a check valve to prevent sewage backups in his basement. His father claimed that this was due to the Town’s pump station breaking down.
DiRosario claims that the presiding judge, Andrew Collin, after hearing testimony, suggested that the parties go outside and try to settle. The result, according to DiRosario, was that the Town agreed to pay several thousand dollars in damages and install a check valve outside the property fence. It was to be placed there, so the town could maintain the upkeep of the check valve.
DiRosario also stated in his letter that the Entwisle property was also owned by the DiRosario family at that time, and was also included in the lawsuit. DiRosario stated that a few days after the lawsuit, the town installed two check valves in the town’s right-of-way for each of the two homes.
To date, no one has been able to locate any documents to substantiate DiRosario’s claim of lawsuit. However, the town did acknowledge a check valve located outside of the DiRosario property in the town’s right-of-way, and has recently (Dec. 2012) replaced that valve.
Colonial Beach Town Manager Val Foulds admitted in a phone interview that she authorized the replacement and maintenance of this valve, while staff looked for documentation to back up DiRosario’s claims that the town agreed to be responsible.
Mr. Entwisle is citing Town Code, which he believes, makes the town responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the check valve.
The town is denying that a check valve exists for the Entwisle property, and cites Virginia State and Town Codes, which they claim, make it the responsibility of the homeowner to protect his property from wastewater damage.
After several emails and a phone conversation with Foulds, it has become clear that there has been some communication breakdown during the last several months regarding the Entwisle property.
Foulds said that after an extensive search for documentation of any agreement between the town and the DiRosario family from the 1970s, and several conversations between Foulds and Entwisle, the town prepared a letter to Entwisle, which Foulds delivered to him in person.
In the letter, the town maintains that their staff has not been able to locate any documentation that would indicate an obligation to install a check valve in the sewer line leading to his property.
The letter also states that town staff has reviewed the available information on Entwisle’s interior and external plumbing, and have provided two recommendations-the installation of a sump pump with an ejector and a backflow preventer, and the removal and capping of all basement plumbing outlets. These include, but are not limited to, water closets, sinks, and floor drains.
The letter is not clear whether it is recommended to perform one of these solutions or both. The letter also acknowledges the check valve installed at the DiRosario property, but advises Entwisle that, “Maintenance of that check valve does not guarantee that the valve will remain closed and work, as designed. Moreover, installation and maintenance of the check valve does not eliminate the need for individual property owners to install a sump pump or employ another approved method to otherwise protect their property from sewer backups. Please take appropriate measures to protect your property, because if there should be a malfunction in the town’s check valve, the town is not responsible for any damage to your property.”
In the same letter, the town also recommends that Entwisle obtain backup insurance until he selects a final solution.
In a different letter to both the Colonial Beach Town Council and Public Works, Foulds updated the parties on the latest outcome. Foulds stated that during conversations with Entwisle, he had agreed to work with a relative who is a plumber from Alexandria, to help him decide on a repair option to resolve the matter. Foulds also said that she assured him that Building Inspector Dextor Monroe would be happy to work with him to help advise him on a resolution.
In the update, Foulds also advised the Council that after talking with Councilmen Tommy Edwards and Tim Curtin, it was suggested by both that Entwisle had expressed concerns to them on the recommended resolutions.
The update also said that the accounts of conversations with Entwisle from the two councilmen portrayed Entwisle as being disappointed with his interactions with Foulds. Foulds claimed that this is inconsistent with her previous conversations with him. Foulds said she has witnesses to back this claim.
This leaves Foulds to believe that Entwisle has changed his position on the matter, and she is not sure what is driving his shift in attitude.
Entwisle stated in his recent interview with the Journal that he is not happy with the recommendations, and feels that the town has no right to ask him to get rid of his basement bathroom.
Entwisle’s nephew, Melvin Entwisle, Jr., is an inspector for the City of Alexandria, VA. Melvin visited the home on Monroe St. and placed a camera down the sewer pipes. Melvin claims he has located a check valve installed in the town’s right-of-way just in front of Entwisle’s home. Melvin provided pictures to Colonial Beach Public Works two weeks ago. Melvin claims that the check valve is stuck in the open position, rendering it inoperable, and he has marked the location of the valve on the street with paint.
As of Tuesday, March 26, the town maintains that it is the property owner’s responsibility to provide measures to protect his property from sewer backups. Public Works Secretary Pam Warner relayed a message to The Journal from Public Works Director Rob Murphy that all communication on this matter should be directed to, and come from Town Hall.