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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Town Denies Responsibility for Sewer Spill

Christmastime last year at a Victoria woman's apartment was anything but joyful. Instead of Santa Claus arriving, puddles of sewage invaded her home.

Nine months later, she and the city still have not reached an agreement on who should pay for the repairs.

Angie Bowles solved her sewage problem when it backed up in her toilet on Dec. 19. However, when she left early that morning, she didn't think to check on her daughter's apartment, which was behind hers in the 1800 block of Lawndale Avenue.

She got a call later that day, alerting her that sewage had spilled into her daughter Leah Bowles' bedrooms, bathroom, linen closet, hallway and even into the kitchen's wall.

"Like a flood had come through your house, it was very damaging," Bowles said.

A work order from Victoria's public works department showed that roots and paper had clogged a sewage pipe on the city's side of the line.

Lynn Short, director of public works, said roots are notorious for causing sewage stoppages since they grow near water.

However, when Maureen Monney, the property owner, filed a claim for the damage, the city's risk pool refused to pay for it.

Yolanda Gregson, claims specialist for the Texas Municipal League Intergovernmental Risk Pool, wrote to Monney's attorney that no wrongful act, omission or negligence on the city's part caused the damage to Monney's property.

Gregson declined to comment further.

Documents show that Monney was billed $1,809.39 to have the sewage cleaned. Another $665.17 was charged to replace the carpeting, and $163.88 was charged for labor to replace wall board and molding.

When Monney estimated the cost of volunteer hours used to clean and re-paint the apartment, along with equipment and other previous mentioned costs, the total came out to $3,663.81.

For Bowles' daughter and granddaughter, the losses were less expensive but more immediate.

Linen, towels and clothes used to soak up the sewage were lost, Leah Bowles said. Her daughter's bookshelf and dresser were lost, but the grandmother refused to let go of the child's inflatable, princess-castle bed.

"I just bleached-water that booger," Angie Bowles explained.

Leah Bowles said the sewage smelled like urine. Green, soupy sewage that she found in the linen closet smelled worst.

"I felt like it was kind of in my mouth," said Leah Bowles.

A document turned in by Monney estimated Leah Bowles' losses at $1,270.

The clean-up was also a hassle: All big stuff had to be taken outside, Angie Bowels said. And those who cleaned the place wore masks.

Meanwhile, Leah Bowels and her child needed someone to take them in for Christmas and beyond. They stayed with grandma for three weeks.

Monney told the city council of her situation at the council's April 19 meeting.

Monney asked the city for information. City Attorney Thomas Gwosdz said the city has since delivered the requested information.

Monney said she wanted her and Leah Bowles to be reimbursed by the city.

Monney said she would talk with her council representative. She, her husband and the Bowles family plan to speak at every council meeting for the maximum time allowed, if nothing happens.

"My insurance would have paid every dime of it, but because it's on the city side they refused to pay," Monney said. "And that's what gets me so angry."

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