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Dryers were running throughout Edna Domholt's basement after sewage was cleaned out. The basement will need to be sanitized. (Anna Erickson/Enterprise)

Sewer backups causing headaches for Park Rapids homeowners

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PARK RAPIDS -- Edna Domholt woke up one week ago, walked to the basement to start a load of laundry and found sewage pouring into her basement.

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She was one of several homeowners along a two-block stretch of Front Avenue between Sixth and Eighth Street in Park Rapids who found sewage in their basement. It wasn't the first time this had happened.

"I lost quite a few things, things over a hundred years old," Domholt said in an interview.

Her wedding flowers were ruined, along with memorabilia from her deceased husband, including boxing gloves.

Domholt was one of almost a dozen people who attended the Park Rapids City Council meeting Tuesday to relay their concerns and ask that the city fix the problem.

Public Works Director Scott Burlingame said Saturday's backup was the worse it had been in a long time.

"We probably have six to eight a year ... but most of the time we catch it before it becomes a problem," he said. "It's old, clay tile."

The pipe was cleaned about a month ago, Burlingame said.

"Are you saying this is not the end of the problem?" asked Mayor Nancy Carroll.

"No," he said.

"What is the solution?" she asked.

"Replace it. Along with the rest of the clay tile in town," Burlingame said.

A temporary solution is to install a back-flow valve for each of the homes. The back-flow valves cost between $500 and $1,500 depending on the home.

The city will pay 50 percent of the valve.

Arvayda Carter, who also lives on Front Avenue, said this was the second time sewage had backed up in her basement in eight months.

"There are three houses for sure that were affected by this," she said.

Carter said she is concerned about the property values decreasing. She also worries that not everyone will be able to pay for a back-flow valve.

For Domholt, last week's sewage backup was the fifth time this had happened since she moved to the home in 1989.

Some of her items were up on wheels or bricks but it wasn't enough. She had about seven inches of sewage in her basement, she said.

This past week Domholt had a cleaning service come in to help her dry out and sanitize the basement. Her home still smells of the sewage.

"A lot of gas came in with the sewage," Domholt said. "The gas and smoke alarms went off."

An insurance claim has been filed for the damage.

She is worried most about potential environmental problems. The old clay sewer pipes have cracks that could be leaking into the ground.

Burlingame said he would work with the homeowners on the two-block stretch of Front Avenue to get back-flow valves installed.

Councilwoman Sue Tomte said she wants to make sure this project is on the city's capital improvement list, along with the other clay tile pipes in the city.

Carroll wants to discuss the issue further.

"I think we need to have a discussion about how we're going to fix these areas and find a way of financing it so that it's affordable and fair to the property owners," Carroll said.

This is a health and safety issue, she added.

City Administrator Bill Smith suggested looking at the city's assessment policy along with this issue. The city council agreed to discuss this issue further at a future date.

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