Raw Sewage is Just the Beginning of Florida Homeowners' Troubles
By Gerri Elder
In Jacksonville, Florida, the JEA water system provides service to more than 240,000 water customers and 180,000 sewer customers. They are the largest provider in Jacksonville, providing water and sewer services to 80 percent of customers in the area.
JEA is also an electric provider in Jacksonville, and in 2003 they established the Water and Sewer Expansion Authority to help serve the 175,000 homeowners in the area who still depended upon outdated and failing septic systems to connect to the water supply.
The Apple family lives in Jacksonville. Last week they were flooded out of their home. If it had been water coming into their home, it would have been bad enough, but the Apple family was faced with something far worse. Raw sewage backed up into their home, and as you can imagine, caused massive damages.
During a rainfall, the stinking mess came up out of all the drain lines, flooding the home with the raw sewage. The Apple family tried bailing it out with buckets, coolers and even dishes from their kitchen but the mess kept coming in. Nancy Apple says that the disgusting filth covered the family and their home.
Three days later, the house looked dry on the inside, but the filth had seeped into the floors and the walls. Now it has dried all over the home. Obviously, the Apples can not currently live there.
Since the Apples are JEA customers, naturally they had some questions for them about the sewage flooding problem.
Gerri Boyce with JEA said, "It's storm related, you can't blame the amount of rain that falls... it's an act of God, not an issue with the JEA system."
Since JEA says the raw sewage in the Apple's home was a problem caused by the rainfall, and not a problem with their system, they say they will not pay for any of the damage the sewage caused to the home. They said that they will help the Apple's deal with the claim with their homeowners insurance company though.
The Apple's claim that the mess did come from JEA's sewer system. They have been flooded before, but never with raw sewage.
Almost a week after the home was flooded with the sewage and the Apples were told by JEA that their sewage system did not cause the damages, a representative from JEA and a City Council member visited the Apple's home.
The Apple's say that JEA is now working with them to see what can be done about repairing the damage done to the home by the raw sewage backup. Officials at JEA now say that the backup happened because the Apple's home sits lower than the drain. Since the home is on lower ground, the water backed into the home rather than flowing out to the manhole.
Gerri Boyce now says that JEA is working with the family and plumbers, to make sure that everything is working properly and that the Apple family won't have a re-run of this nasty experience.
City insurance agents are conducting an investigation to see if the city was at fault for the sewage backup. A City Council member from the Apple's district is also looking into the matter to see what can be done to help them.
Art Shad, the City Council member, said that at this time it would not be fair to put the blame in one place. He believes it is a situation in which a bit of the responsibility belongs in several different places.
Homeowners in similar situations to the Apple family, in which the home sits lower than the drain, can install a backwater or backflow device which can help the water flow put where it is supposed to go. The device has a flap to keep the sewage safely out of the home.
The JEA suggests that every homeowner know the location of their back drain valve in case of flooding. The valve can be opened in cases of emergency to let the water spill out into the yard rather than let it into come the home.
For now, the Apples say that they will likely be out of their home for months while the sewage is cleaned up. While that is a major inconvenience, the bigger headache will probably be the wrangling over exactly who is going to pay for the damages to the home.