The Eno River Association wants the city to cover its cleanup expenses resulting from backed-up sewage that flooded its offices in January.
Robin Jacobs, the environmental nonprofit’s executive director, made the request Feb. 18 in a letter to City Council members, which included an estimate of $107,605 for decontamination, reconstruction and replacing office contents that were damaged beyond repair.
“This would be a catastrophic loss for almost anyone, and it certainly is for a nonprofit organization such as the Eno River Association,” Jacobs wrote. “We request that the City of Durham take responsibility for the failure of the sewer system the city operates.”
Jacobs said late last week that she had not received a response yet.
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“I know that (city officials have) been discussing it ... and I expect I’ll hear something relatively soon,” she said.
City Manager Tom Bonfield said the request was being reviewed by the city’s risk-management and water management staffs.
“We were glad to get that information,” Bonfield said. “We’ll know a little more next week where we might be going with that.”
Insurance will cover only about $10,000 of the damage, according to Jacobs. The association held a benefit concert last weekend to raise money for recovery and is asking supporters for donations.
“The question we have encountered over and over is ‘Why isn’t Durham paying for the damage caused by its sewer?’” she wrote in her letter to council members.
“The question is always, ‘What’s the right thing to do here?’ ” said Councilman Don Moffitt. “What would we do for anybody this would happen to?”
Moffitt is a former Eno Association president, but he said he is not now in close contact with the group’s leadership.
“I’m comfortable that whatever feelings I have about this situation are exactly the same as if it happened to anyone in the city,” he said.
The backup caused toilets in the association offices to overflow with raw sewage over the weekend of Jan. 10-11. By the time staff members came to work that Monday, raw sewage was up to four inches deep in some parts of the building, which is next to the Eno River on Guess Road in northern Durham.
A city crew found and cleared the blockage from a sewer main just upstream from a pump station adjacent to the association’s’ property, according to Vicki Westbrook, the water department’s assistant director. She said none of the sewage reached the river itself.
Damage required an environmental cleanup including removal of all flooring and some subflooring and wallboards, and replacing the HVAC heating unit and ducts.
The sewage also ruined some stored association records, damaged the telephone system and spoiled some items, such as souvenir T-shirts, used in the annual Festival for the Eno.
While repairs are going on, the association is working in temporary quarters at the Chapel Hill law firm Epting and Hackney.
“It’s been very disruptive,” Jacobs said. “But we’re still managing to do ... what we need to do.”