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UMJA Customer Just Wants to be Made Whole
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Writer
2019-12-12

            An East Greenville woman, claiming raw sewage shot from her toilet and caused at least $10,000 worth of damage to her home five months ago, appeared Tuesday night at Upper Montgomery Joint Authority's (UMJA) monthly board of directors meeting. Lucinda "Cindi" Drayer says she just wants to be made whole.

            Drayer, who lives at 713 Hamilton Road in the borough, has spent approximately $10,000 cleaning up her home. She recovered half of that through a claim with her homeowner's insurance.

            Mayor Keith Gerhart told the directors that Drayer was not looking to recover any money other than the remaining balance of the estimated damages. Drayer estimated that amount at $5,000.

            "They're not exorbitant," she said during the meeting.

            Gerhart, speaking on behalf of his resident, chronicled her story during the meeting. On July 11, the day the Upper Perkiomen Valley received heavy rain and suffered significant flooding, raw sewage spewed from the toilet in her first floor bathroom at a height of two feet in her home in Colonial Village, according to the mayor.

            According to Drayer, the dirty water flowed from the toilet for at least an hour at her home at 713 Hamilton Road. She explained outside the meeting that the flooding damaged the entire first floor. Gerhart told the board the sewage ruined cabinets, furniture, walls, tile and carpets, and flooring.

            On July 12, Drayer contacted her homeowner's insurance and the authority. Three days later, a representative from Traveler's did a full assessment of the damage. Two UMJA officials came to her home, but refused to enter, according to Gerhart. He said the employees said the house "is a health hazard," and that "she should get out."

            According to Gerhart, an adjuster representing the Philadelphia Insurance Company, the authority's insurance company, stated that he would not come to the property until after it was cleaned up. The mayor said that on Aug. 15, Drayer received a letter from the company stating that "we fail to see the presence of any negligence" against the authority and "respectfully deny any liability for any damages you may have incurred."

            According to Drayer, no representatives from UMJA or the Philadelphia Insurance Company ever visited her home nor has she received responses to her inquiries.

            Properties at 715 and 717 Hamilton Road also suffered similar damage during the storm, according to Drayer. All three properties may have been previously flooded.

            After receiving the rejection letter, the resident requested records of claims paid out to previous property owners at 713, 715 and 717 Hamilton Road, according to Gerhart. Drayer was aware of those claims because she was told by Philadelphia Insurance Company during a conversation.

             Sandy Weller, who lives at 710 Hamilton Road and sat with Drayer during the meeting, claimed all the toilets overflowed at all three properties across the street in 2008.

However, according to an email the Town and Country received on Wednesday morning from William Ingram, president of the authority's board of directors, UMJA has no record of any sewer backups in 2008 or any insurance payouts to these properties.

            Gerhart also claimed that the owner of 717 Hamilton Road informed Drayer that UMJA was supposed to install some type of "plug" in the line as a deterrent to prevent the July 11 situation. According to the mayor, Jim Fry – the borough's code enforcement officer and manager – confirmed that information.

            "Was the 'plug,' which was to act as a deterrent installed prior to, or during the storm, on July 11?" the mayor asked. "If so, then what failed? If not. Why?"

According to Ingram, UMJA has no records of any plan in the past for putting a plug anywhere.

"That does not make sense because plugging any lines would prevent residents from being able to flush their toilets," he wrote in the same message. 

            Drayer had no reason to suspect the home had any lateral issues when she purchased the home 15 months ago, according to Gerhart. He told the members that the previous owners indicated on a property disclosure statement that they had no knowledge of any past or present drainage or flooding problems or mitigation issues on the property.

            Gerhart also cited minutes from the UMJA September meeting stating that lines on Hamilton Road were checked with video cameras. He referenced October meeting minutes reporting that three lines on Hamilton Road needed repairs.

"For years, UMJA has worked diligently and performed numerous and costly sanitary sewer system upgrades to address excess flow issues throughout its service area," wrote Ingram.             Excess flow issues, which occur during very heavy rain events like the one on July 11, is caused by rain and ground water entering the sanitary sewer system "through illegal sump pumps and drains in buildings as well as broken sewer lines, both public and private," Ingram maintains.

            The directors did not address any of Gerhart's claims during the meeting. Solicitor R. Kurtz Holloway told Drayer the members would take the information under advisement. The solicitor also asked her to send any relevant information to authority officials. Holloway said he and Jennifer Leister, the plant's executive secretary, would contact UMJA's insurance company.

According to the board president, the authority is instructed by the insurance company to refer all claims to them for handling. He wrote that the authority always complies with that request. Ingram wrote that UMJA was copied on the company's written correspondence with Drayer. However, the members have not received any of the resident's information she sent to the insurance company.


 

 

 

 

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