Money down the drain

Work continues Wednesday at the lift station located at the corner of Jericho and Defay roads in Stevensville. 

STEVENSVILLE — What Benjamin Beres and his family are going through has been described as a series of unfortunate events.

The Bereses, along with a handful of their Southfork Drive neighbors, saw their sewer lines back up as the lift station on the corner of Jericho and Defay roads stopped working Sunday.

“This is not a joyful time for us,” Beres said during the public comment portion of a board meeting Tuesday. “The issues with the lift station a year ago still have not been corrected.”

The lift station the township is planning to replace has become a larger project than expected. Supervisor Dick Stauffer said they originally tried repairing the lift station and thought the problem was solved until this past weekend.

Now the township intends to replace the entire lift station, which officials estimate will cost up to $500,000. It could take more than a couple months to replace the station in its entirety.

Dave Austin, township’s engineer, said the lift stations are older than most but have been kept in good standing by township staff.

“That being said, the backup occurred, the township staff responded and have implemented bypass pumping,” Austin said.

Township workers have checked on the lift station once every three hours this week. When bypass pumping became too overwhelming, the township hired an outside company to pump and haul the waste elsewhere.

Austin said they are down to three trips a day in removing the waste and depositing it.

The township has also asked the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to have expedited permits put in place to begin the process of replacing the station as early as possible.

The project is expected to cost so much because of the scope of what needs to be replaced.

Austin said the plan is to replace the entire lift station, along with adding new pumps, controls, motors and – if necessary – a new force main.

Clerk Stacy Loar-Porter said the township can cover the major expense as they budget for one lift station every year in case of maintenance. As of Wednesday, the township’s sewer fund is $5.2 million.

Keeping things moving

It’s been costly for residents in the Southfork Drive subdivision as well.

In the past year, Beres said he’s had to replace the carpet and drywall downstairs. In addition to paying for clean-up services and paying for more equipment to alleviate the problem, Beres said it has cost his household nearly $20,000.

He said dealing with his insurance company has become a nightmare.

“That doesn’t take into account the value of our home,” Beres said shortly after leaving the meeting. “We have a guest room down there, but I don’t know if we can count that anymore with all the damage.”

The township received several calls on Sunday and Monday concerning sewer waste in residential basements.

Another resident who lives in Beres’ neighborhood told trustees Tuesday that his basement has taken on damage several times this year as a result of the lift station backing up.

Loar-Porter said this affects the same four or five houses on Southfork Drive because the neighborhood is about 6 inches to 1 foot lower than other homes.

Problems with the lift station began a year ago after Berrien County was hit with a flash flood.

“We had a big rain about a year ago,” Loar-Porter told The Herald-Palladium on Wednesday. “Someone’s yard was flooded and they opened their clean-out valve and the front yard’s mulch, rocks and mud clogged the pipe. That went to the lift station on the south side.”

The township attempted to clear out all the material, to no avail.

The township has 21 lift stations, but hasn’t had to replace one in several years. The majority of the stations that are still in operation were installed in the late 1970s. Loar-Porter said the lift station that needs to be replaced is one of the new ones in the township, which was installed in the late 1980s.

“We feel so horrible for that family,” Loar-Porter said in reference to the Bereses. “Our guys have worked really hard to keep things moving over there.”

Maintenance workers responded to the faulty station over the weekend and have been on site every day since. Loar-Porter said the problem escalated over the weekend because more people were at home and using the sewer system.

Loar-Porter said the township will continue to monitor the station, as workers have been out there until 11 p.m. every night.

Austin said they plan to add more graders and screening to ensure inappropriate material doesn’t enter anymore of the lift stations.

“This is the fist time in the 15 years since I’ve been here, when anything like this has happened,” Austin said. “The township has done a great job maintaining these pretty complicated systems. I don’t believe this was due to negligence on their part. A series of unfortunate events kind of lined up and here we are.”

Contact: twittkowski@TheHP.com, 932-0358, Twitter: @TonyWittkowski