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Sewage fills basement

By Sharon Weatherall and Tom Villemaire
Midland Free Press
Tuesday, March 04, 2003

Local News - When the highwater alarm went off in the basement of 304 Church Street in Penetang on Saturday afternoon, Ken and Laurie Playne knew they were in for a stinking mess.

It was about 2:30 p.m. when the couple ran downstairs to witness a thick, murky substance welling over the top of their sump pump hole and the all-too familiar reek of raw sewage filling the basement. Ten feet away in a recently finished bathroom, all hell broke loose as the foul substance began shooting out of the toilet bowl and shower stall drain.

The sewer was backing up again - for the fourth time in two years only this time there was no stopping it. Two pumps and six inches of feces, condoms, plastic debris and garbage later, the flood ended but the nightmare didn’t. The Playnes spent the afternoon and evening pumping the mess out. By 11 p.m. the slimy liquid was gone, all that remained was the stench and ruined belongings.

“Once it starts coming out we’re done, everything is ruined,” Laurie Playne told Free Press last week, between house calls from the gas company and furnace contractor who had come to take carbon monoxide readings and assess the damage. The furnace will have to be replaced, just like the furniture, pieces of Ken’s band’s musical equipment, carpets, flooring and two pages of other personal items on a list that has gone to the couple’s insurance company.

According to Laurie Playne, it’s getting to be routine, replacing their furniture only to have it ruined again. The couple had to change insurance companies after the first severe damages were received from sewage system back up - the company told them they no longer covered that type of damage.

The trouble started on Oct. 6, 1999 and they have since been the victims of raw sewage flooding in their home on three other occasions in the past six months - Nov. 2002, Dec. 31, and Feb. 22.

They are not alone, other residents in the immediate vicinity have been experiencing similar damages each time there is a blockage in the sewer line.

The Playnes are blaming it on the Central North Correctional Centre.

Ken Playne said he heard it was caused from the inmates flushing their toilets all at once, along with the kitchen and other disposals blocking the lines. He said Saturday CNCC was shut down from the water system all night so the town could get rid of the blockage in the main trunk.

“Late Saturday night they had a regional sanitation system truck set up on the site so they were still operational and flushing at certain times. It allowed time for the residents below to be pumped out,” said Ken Playne.

Laurie said evidence that CNCC was the cause was in their basement and they have it on video.

“The debris we are finding in our basement comes from the Super Jail - we pulled towels and even a t-shirt from the drain this time. We have lived here for 14 years and we never had any problems before the Super Jail went in, but since it has come we have had sewage backed up into our basement.” said Playne.

The Playne’s said they never had a problem with them putting the jail in but since it’s been operational it has caused nothing but problems to the plumbing.

“Now there are 1,200 inmates flushing their toilets and we’ve had our furniture replaced three times. The house is disinfected after each incident, but each time the sewage is just pumped from the basement out to the side of our house and on our sidewalk and left there. No one has come to clean it up yet, we have to do it. I am worried about diseases health wise - the smell, the condoms, plastic gloves and other garbage. We don’t know if we are dealing with AIDS. We found one condom with a white substance in it that has been sent away for testing. It’s a nightmare. At this point we don’t know where we stand.”

Mayor Anita Dubeau, the deputy mayor Randy Robbins and CAO George Vadeboncoeur, were all on the scene Saturday immediately after being called.

Dubeau says there is “no doubt” CNCC is to blame for what is happening.

“It’s being caused by someone at the facility flushing things into the system. I saw it myself, a large mass of cloth - sheets that were ripped and braided, toweling and other materials - a great big blob of stuff flushed down and coming through the system. It was frozen solid and caused the blockage,” she said.

“The town public works worked all night trying to open them up. We will be looking to recoup costs. The town responded as quickly as possible to try and do everything we could for the effected people on Saturday. We went out to view the situation first hand, myself, the deputy mayor and the CAO. It was not a pleasant sight and we have to work hard so that this does not happen again.”

Dubeau says the town of Penetanguishene has been doing remedial work to keep the main trunk lines flushed out and screens clean in the sewage treatment plant, all at a cost. She says the ministry has assisted by providing some funding. But the answer to the problem lies in the delayed installation of a monster auger at CNCC valued between $250,000-$500,000. The giant grinder will collect plastic waste or inorganics, cut them up and separate them for disposal to landfill.

“Unfortunately, we have had no update with the monster auger but the ministry committed to installing it within 32 weeks, which will be around May or June. The monster auger will correct the problem and we are very disappointed that it is not installed yet,” said Dubeau.

Local MPP Garfield Dunlop, said he heard the auger would be installed in April at an overall cost of $1 million.

“The Town of Penetang had anticipated this kind of problem but the ministry didn’t. They did not see it as an issue or share the same concerns as we did. A small community sewage treatment system is not equipped to handle a facility like this the same way as a big city would. They would have the equipment in their sewage treatment plant. The Mental Health Centre has their own sewage treatment plant,” said Dubeau.

Dubeau said the town will be discussing the sewage issue at their upcoming Transportation and Environmental committee meeting and an update will be provided. She hopes the recent sewage disaster will help to speed up the arrival of the monster auger.

“We need to know what stage it is at and when it will be installed in the system,” said Dubeau.

“The Playnes have been very tolerant - this is the fourth time it has happened to them and they have become prisoners in their own home. It has got to be fixed so this does not happen again and they can have their freedom back.”

CNCC administrator Doug Thomson confirmed there was an issue Saturday, Feb. 22, in which the Town of Penetang asked CNCC to shut off the water so that they could determine where a problem in the lines was coming from. He said the blockage causing the problem had come from the CNCC property and gone through to the street.

“It could have been something that was in the lines for a very long time, since the beginning,” said Thomson.

“It is the nature of the business - offenders will attempt to put things into the system especially if they are caught with contraband and they are held accountable. In terms of watching the offenders, we have procedures and monitor them but it’s the nature of the business. In the end a grinder will eliminate the problem. Some sort of grinding machine should have been put on the system in the first place.”

Thomson said the Ministry of Correctional Services & Public Safety committed in fall 2002 to install a grinding machine or “monster auger”, giving at that time a 32 week window frame for building design, manufacturing and installation. He anticipated the auger will be installed some time in spring.

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