Iqaluit resident maxes out insurance dealing with sewage backups; says city is to blame

Sewage backups have caused more than $60,000 in damages to a home in Iqaluit’s Happy Valley neighbourhood — and residents are saying those numbers aren’t uncommon.

Iqaluit is planning a city-wide sewer assessment for the fall

'It’s been very frustrating, I kinda went through depression, having no home and having to work each day,' said Kathy Martha Padluq. (Travis Burke/CBC)

Sewage backups have caused more than $60,000 in damages to a home in Iqaluit's Happy Valley neighbourhood — and residents are saying those numbers aren't uncommon.

George Hickes, the MLA for the area, says he's heard from at least seven homeowners, many of whom have spent tens of thousands of dollars for repairs to their homes and some who have the same issues every year.  

The toilets in Kathy Martha Padluq's house first overflowed in March. Since then it's been an ongoing headache — and an expensive one.

Padluq said she called a plumber right away, but after repeated incidents of overflow into her house from frozen pipes, the water damage was extensive. So, she called her home insurance provider.

The insurance company paid for Padluq and her husband to be out of the house for two months while the toilets and bathtub were taken out and the floors of the two bathrooms and kitchen were re-done.

"The workers who were working on the house mentioned that when we were out of the house, that there was water and sewage backing up to our system and we weren't in the house," said Padluq, so she called the city, thinking it must be the city's utilidor system causing the issue.

Kathy Martha Padluq surveys the damage under her house as a result of overflowing sewage. (Travis Burke/CBC)

It was early May by that point, and she said it took awhile to hear back from the city. Eventually a municipal enforcement officer dropped off a letter.

"From the city's perspective, the information regarding the cause of the backup is not adequate yet to determine who was responsible," stated the letter.

The letter went on to state that out of compassion, the city would offer her two weeks' accommodation for $400 in a city unit, while it sussed out the cause of the backups.

The cost of the investigation and the contractor to repair the issue would be invoiced to Padluq upon completion.

Padluq took the city up on its offer for accommodation, but after hearing the estimate for the work was between $6,000 and $10,000, she refused the investigation, because her insurance was maxed out and she said she didn't think the issue was her responsibility.

She has a letter from the contractor saying they believe the backup problems stemmed from near the street, where the house's line connected to the main city sewer line — and beyond.

Sewage overflow has frozen underneath Kathy Martha Padluq's house. (Travis Burke/CBC)

'They've done everything right'

Her husband then called their MLA.

"They've done everything right, they've gone through and exhausted their avenues to this point, and that's what concerns me," said Hickes.

He said he believes shifting permafrost and aging city infrastructure both play a role in creating issues between the main system and the house.

"I understand the city's stance that the issue is not on their system, but I think the root cause definitely has a part to play," he said.

He says he has reached out to the mayor and is working with the minister of Community and Government Services to find climate change adaptation funding that could be used to fix Iqaluit's utilidor — but he says he knows that won't happen quickly.

He says he'd also like to see flexible piping or above-ground piping considered to deal with the problems caused by shifting permafrost.

The first utilidor piping was laid in Iqaluit in 1975 and the average age of the lines is 26 years. There are currently 24 kilometres of water line and 24 kilometres of sewer line in Iqaluit, according to the city.  

The Happy Valley area has historically been a hot spot for sewage backups, so in 2015 the city replaced some of the line on a street adjacent to Paluq's home.

Since 2015, the city has replaced 500 metres of utilidor at a cost of $1.5 million, and some residents say this has resolved their issues.

City-wide sewer assessment planned

More replacements are planned for this summer, according to the city's acting chief administrative officer, Amy Elgersma. Sections of piping along Paunna Road and Niaqunngusiaq Road will be replaced.

Elgersma says the city is currently assessing the water lines across the city of Iqaluit and by the end of summer will be looking at the sewer lines.

The assessment will help the city create a plan for predictable pipe replacement and city growth. It will look at the sizing, location and condition of the lines.

Amy Elgersma said she’s heard from the city’s public works department the main line Padluq is connected to is clear. (Travis Burke/CBC)

Both Elgersma and Hickes urged residents who are having back-up problems to alert the city right away to minimize damage and gather information.

Elgersma said anyone who believes the issues they're having are because of city negligence are invited to make a claim with municipal enforcement.

She said she's heard from the city's public works department that the main line Padluq is connected to is clear, but Padluq is still nervous to use too much water in case it causes another freeze-up and overflow.

"It's been very frustrating, I kinda went through depression, having no home and having to work each day," said Padluq.