County Offer On Sewage Mishap Stinks, Couple Says $500 Called Not Enough For Damaged Basement

November 23, 1990|By Elise Armacost | Elise Armacost,Staff writer

Celie Messinese of Maryland City remembers specifically that it was 7:20 a.m. Tuesday when she called the county utilities department about raw sewage pouring into her club basement.

She also remembers specifically that it was 8:50 a.m. -- 1 hours later -- when the utilities workers finally arrived.

By that time, "I could tell you what color toilet paper the people up the street use," Messinese said. The filthy water was 4 inches deep, the house reeked and the basement was ruined.

Messinese and her husband, Don, think the county should give them enough money to redo their basement, since it took utilities workers so long to respond to the accident. The county has offered them $500.

"I'm furious," Messinese said. "$500 won't even cover the four rugs (that were ruined)."

Tuesday's sewage backup occurred because of a blockage in one of the sewer lines, said Jody Vollmar, spokesman for the utilities department.

Workers arrived at 8:45 a.m., she said, and stayed until 4 p.m. to help the Messineses clean up the mess.

It took 90 minutes for the workers to respond, Vollmar said, because the county's vacuum truck clean-up crew was on its way to another job in Cape St. John when the Messineses' call came in. The crew, which was not driving the vacuum truck used for sewage spills when the call came in, had to turn around and return to the Patuxent Wastewater Treatment Plant in Crofton for the truck.

"Crofton to Maryland City during morning rush hour -- that's quite a trip," Vollmar said.

Messinese said it takes "maybe 25 minutes" to get from Crofton to Maryland City, even during heavy traffic.

Vollmar said there's "no standard response time" for utilities workers to appear at an accident site, explaining, "It all depends on where they are. . . . This is not the same thing as somebody's life being in danger.

We can't go there like an ambulance or a fire truck.

"I'm sure it seemed like long time to the residents, but given the traffic and distance . . . that's not an unreasonable time."

Messinese sees it differently. "We had an emergency! We had water gushing into our house, and nobody could give us any indication of when they were getting here," she said.

Ray Smallwood, president of the Maryland City Improvement Association and member of the Maryland City Volunteer Fire Company, said he was so "infuriated" with the utility department's delay that he immediately called Vollmar to complain. Smallwood was with the fire department when it responded to the Messineses' at 8 a.m.

"I was fit to be tied," he said. "It was like standing there watching your house burn with no water."

Messinese said she and her husband called the fire department because they were afraid of an electrical fire and because they hoped firemen could start pumping out the water.

But state health laws prohibit firemen from handling sewage spills, Smallwood said.

An evaluation performed Tuesday by the county's Department of Risk Management cleared the county of any negligence in the Messinese case, Vollmar said.

But as a courtesy, the county offers $500 to residents who have suffered spills, she said.

If the Messineses wish to argue the case, they may appeal to the director of Risk Management, Vollmar said.

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