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Everett paid $4 million in damage claims after sewage flowed into homes last year

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EVERETT — The city of Everett has just shelled out nearly $4 million in damage claims to homeowners after heavy rain sent raw sewage flowing into homes last year, which is four times what the city expected to pay.

Now city leaders have a plan to cut those costs and save homeowners a big headache.

“It’s devastating,” said homeowner Michelle Murphy.

Murphy’s home was hit twice last summer when the overloaded sewers backed up into her home.

She is now among 200 property owners who have settled $4 million in damage claims against the city.

In most Everett neighborhoods, the sewer line is shared with storm water runoff.

Building separate lines would solve the problem, but that would put taxpayers on the hook for a massive bill.

“Completely separating the system would cost well over a billion dollars and take decades, if not longer, to complete,” said city spokeswoman Meghan Pembroke.

John Vanwell’s home suffered minor flooding during last year’s storms, and his next-door neighbor was hit hard.

“They could probably improve the whole city for about a billion dollars and they’d never have the problem again but that’s pretty foolish,” said Vanwell.

But a simple device called a backward valve could be the answer to the expensive and stinky problem.

“We’ve seen them be very effective in past storms when they’re installed properly and maintained properly,” said Pembroke. “We think this is will significantly reduce the risk of basement flooding in the future and therefore reduce our claims that we would have in storm events.”

The Everett City Council is considering an ordinance that could require property owners to install the backward valve. But if homeowners don’t agree, the city plans to deny future claims when storms send raw sewage into homes.

It’s a plan that Vanwell thinks is long overdue.

“It’s just the way things are. When a storm comes along, the city’s got no control over it.”

The City Council is also considering a $25,000 cap for any future damage claims from and they will discuss the ordinance on Wednesday, which is the first of three scheduled hearings.

If passed, the cap and the backward valve requirement wouldn’t go into effect until later in 2015.

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