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Who’s liable for smelly problem in Rock Falls?

At least 3 houses suffer from backup

ROCK FALLS – There’s no getting around the odor in Lynn Everly’s house.

“Pardon the smell,” she tells a visitor.

Last Saturday, she discovered 4 to 6 inches of sewage in her basement, which had come through a floor drain. The sewer system had backed up. With the help of friends, she brushed the sewage back toward the drain.

Two days later, the system backed up again. Another couple of inches of sewage ended up in her basement.

Such sewer backups have taken place at least four times since Everly moved into her house at 13th Street and Fifth Avenue a dozen years ago, she said.

The backups happened on the city’s side of the system, affecting three houses Saturday and only Everly’s 2 days later, officials said. Everly said the number affected was higher.

Everly, 54, said she doesn’t have the money to pay for the thorough cleaning needed to remove the odor, contending that the city should be held liable. However, City Administrator Robbin Blackert said, municipalities generally have immunity from such claims.

A resident might have flushed a diaper or other debris down the drain, Blackert said, which could have caused a blockage in the city system.

The recent problems were believed to have been caused off of Fifth Avenue, but city employees couldn’t identify the exact blockage, she said.

“People put very strange things down the sink and toilet,” Blackert said. “Sometimes we can get to the root of the problem. It’s probably one of the worst circumstances to have raw sewage come into the basement.”

After being called, city workers got the sewer line free-flowing Saturday, Blackert said, but for some reason, debris got caught up in the system again Monday.

The city advises residents to get backflow prevention valves. Such backups don’t happen with “great frequency,” Blackert said.

Everly, however, is unhappy with the city’s explanation.

“I have to smell this all the time. It doesn’t go away,” she said. “I don’t want to cause a big hassle with the city, but why should I have to go through these expenses when it’s really not my problem to begin with?”

The city’s response is similar to those from other municipalities.

Earlier this month, dozens of residents in Davenport, Iowa, saw their basements flooded with raw sewage. The city blamed a surge of stormwater in the system, with an official advising residents to get backflow valves, according to WQAD-TV.

In Anoka, Minn., some residents suffered sewer backups in March because a city line clogged as the result of rags and hypodermic needles being flushed down a toilet, according to the Anoka County Union newspaper. The city urged residents to get insurance to cover such problems.

The city’s insurance company said the city had no liability because it wasn’t negligent, the newspaper reported.

“We know that someone is liable,” Anoka Mayor Phil Rice said at a meeting. “We just can’t prove who it is.”

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