Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Oak Bay man must pay $16,494 to fix broken sewer line on municipal property

An Oak Bay resident is horrified after learning he’s on the hook for nearly $16,494 in repairs to a broken sewer line that is not even on his property.

Sheldon Seigel said the break is in the lateral pipe connecting his house to the main sewer pipe across the street from his Plymouth Road home. Before repairs began, an Oak Bay official demanded payment of $16,494, citing the municipal sewage bylaw.

Seigel arranged to have a cheque delivered to cover the repairs, but said he has never heard of such a thing, not in Oak Bay or anywhere else.

“Nobody has ever come to me and said: ‘There is a piece of [bylaw] that is going to make you responsible and you are going to have to pay cash to repair the city’s own crumbling infrastructure,” said the 60-year-old retired lawyer.

Oak Bay’s sewer bylaw, believed to be unique in the capital region, makes property owners responsible for all maintenance on any of the pipes connecting their properties to the sewer mains.

Dan Horan, director of engineering services for Oak Bay, said: “The sewer laterals, the storm water and the sanitary sewage in Oak Bay, their maintenance, cleaning, servicing and the replacing, if it needs to be replaced, is the responsibility of the property owner.”

Victoria and Saanich officials confirmed that their municipalities pay to repair pipes on public land.

Oak Bay Mayor Kevin Murdoch said the issue comes up about once a year, when surprised property owners take exception to servicing, repairing or replacing a pipe that is not on their property. Murdoch said the municipality doesn’t have the capacity to inspect and maintain or replace all lateral connections in the municipality.

So it’s left to the homeowner.

“Is it right?” he asked. “I don’t know — it just is.

“It’s been this way in Oak Bay for many years, certainly before I got on council.”

An Oak Bay work crew has replaced Seigel’s pipe and he is waiting for the remainder of a newly dug trench to be filled.

Seigel said the problem began on Feb. 29 when someone staying at his home who was sleeping in the basement came up to report that the toilet and shower drains were backing up.

Seigel called a plumber, who sent down a small camera to “scope” out the sewer line and found the break on the other side of his property line. But the plumber told him that because it was on municipal property, he was not allowed to repair it.

Seigel would have to see the municipality, where an official first demanded $5,500.

Municipal workers found the break after several attempts.

He was told the pipe is from the 1950s or 1960s and made of asbestos and concrete.

A municipal official told him his entire neighbourhood is served by the same type of pipe and it is all deteriorating, saying: “I would be surprised if any of your neighbours’ sewers last two more years.”


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