BELDING — Better safe than sorry, at least that is the mentality behind the latest policy change made by members of Belding City Council regarding the city’s sewer back-up policy.
During Tuesday evening’s city council meeting at the Pere Marquette Depot, members of the council voted unanimously 5-0 to update the city’s sewer back-up policy to reflect current legislation regarding residential complaints.
After a recent meeting with representatives from the city’s liability insurance provider, City Manager Meg Mullendore said action needed to be taken to update the “very vague” policy, which did not include key components to legislation changes made in 2001.
“The city presently does have a sewer backup policy in place, but it is from 2007,” Mullendore said at Tuesday night’s meeting. “The state updated and replaced the existing public act (Public Act 170 of 1964) with (Public Act 222 of 2001) giving municipalities greater immunity in these instances, however … what we had wasn’t comprehensive enough. In order to be covered with insurance we have to have a comprehensive policy in place.”
Mullendore said there were four key provisions to the legislation that needed to be added to the city’s policy, which state that residents must; show that the sewage disposal system had a defect; that an appropriate government agency knew, or reasonably should have known, about the defect; that the defect was not remedied by the governmental agency in a reasonable time; and that the property damage or personal injury resulted because of the defect.
Mullendore said though the changes are very specific and include several conditions that were not listed in the city’s previous policy, it was necessary to update the policy.
“It’s more of a housekeeping item than anything, simply because in order for us to have that insurance coverage come into play, the policy has to represent the current legislation,” she said.
Council member Mike Scheid asked Mullendore why the legislation had changed in the first place.
“Some of the larger metropolitan areas got hit hard with backup claims,” she answered. “Because the legislation wasn’t strong enough, municipalities were paying exorbitant amounts for these. In some respects, it gave governments immunity with the exception of the four provisions.”
Worried that residents may be confused, Scheid asked an additional question on how residents are to know if the problem lies with the city’s main sewer line or not.
“How is a property owner supposed to prove that it was the fault of the sewer main?” he asked. “Do they watch somebody dig it up and fix it or what?”
Director of Public Works Director Ernie Thomas said there are specific methods used in such cases.
“If someone had a sewer problem, they would call the city and we would come out and put a green, traceable dye in the upstream manhole,” he said. “If the dye goes through to the downstream manhole, we know that our line is not plugged. We do have a very aggressive preventative maintenance program in place.”
Thomas said it has been several years since the city has received any sewer backup complaints.
Mayor Pro Tem Andrea Belding said though she understood the policy, she felt the new restrictions were a bit much for residents to handle at one time.
“I understand wanting to have things in place to comply with the insurance company in case the city is at fault, but as a homeowner I’m sure all of us are thinking the same thing, these are four very specific things for people to meet,” she said.
Mullendore reiterated, “That’s what the actual public act and the Michigan compiled laws specify.”