City knew in 1995 about limits of sewer system

Wastewater built up behind this window to Phil Holt’s basement. The pressure blew the window out, flooding his basement with 10 inches of wastewater.                 - Courtesy Phil Holt
Wastewater built up behind this window to Phil Holt’s basement. The pressure blew the window out, flooding his basement with 10 inches of wastewater.
— image credit: Courtesy Phil Holt

POULSBO — A document written by Poulsbo’s planning director in 1995 advised that the city’s sewer main was inadequate to handle development in the Olhava area. It recommended that an additional sewer main be built to carry wastewater from that area down Viking Avenue to Keyport Junction, connecting to a line that would carry it to the treatment plant in Brownsville.

“The sewer situation is perhaps the most worrisome of immediate concern in the capacity of the Lindvig lift station,” then-Planning Director Glenn Gross wrote to Olhava’s developers on Aug. 17, 1995. “The existing 8-inch line on Viking Road cannot handle the increased flow from your project.”

But that line was never built. Today, nine lift stations pump wastewater from Poulsbo’s neighborhoods — including Olhava, Poulsbo Place and other development built since 1995 — to a single line that carries it along Highway 305 to Lemolo and then across Liberty Bay to Brownsville. And that’s the line that, inundated with stormwater and wastewater, blew a manhole cover Nov. 19 and flooded Phil Holt’s basement at 9th and Nordnes for the second time since 2007.

It was a different manhole cover than the one that popped in 2007. And Holt is afraid it could happen again.

Public Works Director Barry Loveless said the sewer main was inundated with stormwater and pushed the manhole cover loose, allowing a 5,000- to 10,000-gallon mix of wastewater and stormwater to flow down the hill to Holt’s house.

Three or four Public Works crew members went to the scene and, with sandbags, routed the flow from the house to a storm drain, Loveless said, where it went into Liberty Bay. That prompted a six-day bay closure by the Kitsap County Health District.

The crew members pumped the water from the basement. Holt hired contractors to repair the damage, including replacing drywall and carpet.

Stuart Whitford, manager of the Kitsap County Health District’s Water Pollution Identification and Correction Program, said the wastewater that overflowed was enough to fill five to 10 septic tanks.

The sewer main is located uphill from Holt’s neighborhood. When it blows, the wastewater flows down a forested hill, down Nordnes Street. It flows down the natural contour of the street across Holt’s neighbor’s yard (and into her crawl space), and then across Holt’s yard. It fills the basement window space until the glass breaks from the pressure, then flows into his basement — laundry room, storage, bathroom, recreation room — this latest time, to a depth of 10 inches.

When Holt’s home was flooded in December 2007, he filed a claim with the city. His home sustained $26,000 in damage. The City Council and the city’s insurance carrier, the Association of Washington Cities, denied the claim. He hired ADA Engineering, which is led by former city engineer Herb Armstrong, to do a report on the city’s sewer system.

The report noted that the city’s sewer main is “used by areas and development never anticipated in the original design.” ADA included documents showing that the city was aware in 1991 that the existing sewer main was “at or exceeding capacity during wet weather,” and noted that the main recommended by Gross was never built.

AWC settled with Holt for $19,000.

Holt has filed a claim for payment for repairs to his home after the latest flood. Mayor Becky Erickson said Monday she supports paying the claim. “We have no desire to put anybody through this,” she said.

She said the city thought it had fixed the problem. The city has been working to identify places where stormwater can get into the sewer system.

Manhole covers are bolted into the concrete manhole which leads to the sewer pipe. After the storm in December 2007, Public Works reinforced the manhole and re-bolted the cover in place so it couldn’t be popped by an overflow. The mayor said the city has been working to reinforce other manhole covers at risk of popping loose.

“We thought we fixed it, but a piece further up the line broke in another section and flooded him again,” Erickson said. “This latest storm was more intense than in 2007. We had severe flooding in several areas of the city.”

Erickson called the spill “not acceptable.”

Wednesday, nine days after the flood, Holt’s basement was tidied but the damage was evident. A contractor had removed carpet and 10 inches of drywall that will need to be replaced. Holt had replaced the broken window and disinfected everything in sight. A water line was visible on every box, on pieces of furniture. Dehumidifiers hummed. Among the items lost: Childhood photos of the Holts’ children, who are now adults.

Meanwhile, Loveless said Holt’s house could be protected from any future overflow by installing berms or curbing.


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