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Monday, June 27, 2011

City Will Not Pay for City Backups

While levees draw public attention, another flood threat spreads unnoticed beneath St. Joseph.

With Missouri River levels above 24 feet, all of the city’s combined sewer overflow gates are submerged, unable to release stormwater and sewage into the river. Until the river falls below 24 feet, even a small rain shower could cause basement drains and curb inlets to back up and flood homes or streets.

The City Council passed an emergency ordinance Tuesday to exempt it from reimbursing property owners for damage caused by surface flooding or by sewer backups that occur while river levels exceed 24 feet.

“We’re just acknowledging that the city has no control over Mother Nature,” Public Works Director Bruce Woody said.

Under normal circumstances, the city reimburses property owners up to $10,000 for damage related to sewer backups.

When the river rises past 24 feet, the city reasons that the damage comes not from a shortcoming of its sewer system, but from the river, which the city cannot control.

River-related sewer backups would first occur in areas near the river. Heavy storms could lead to flooded streets, as stormwater cannot flow to the river.

Starting Thursday, the city will offer a free sand and sandbag program to help residents protect property from stormwater that could backup from streams that have nowhere to go. The program will last four to five days, or until the city runs out of sand.

The city will distribute 1,000 tons of sand from its location at Sixth and Atchison streets. Residential owners may receive 1,000 pounds of sand and 50 sandbags per visit with a maximum of three trips.

Commercial and industrial owners will receive the same amount of sand, but no sandbags, as the city has a limited supply.

“We still won’t have enough sandbags, but it will make a dent,” Communications Manager Mary Robertson said.

City officials stressed that the sandbags are not designed to protect individual residences from a levee breach. Instead, the 150 sandbags a person could get from their three trips could protect a low-sitting garage door from water from a nearby stream, or basement windows from stormwater.

The city is not allowed to distribute its stockpile of filled sandbags it received from the federal government. All federal sandbags must be kept in reserve to protect against levee breaches, sand boils, or other emergencies, according to Mr. Woody.

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