LYNN — Tony Garcia was horrified when raw sewage began to flow into his family’s newly remodeled basement on Verona Street.
On the night of the Dec. 2 snowstorm, a backup in the city’s sewer system caused raw sewage, which included human feces, to start overflowing from the family’s downstairs bathroom. The smell was rancid, Garcia said.
What made the situation worse, said Garcia, was that the overflow happened at midnight Dec. 3 and Lynn Water & Sewer Commission (LWSC) crews could not respond to his home until after 8 a.m. that morning. Hours of raw sewage overflow destroyed his family’s basement, a $5,900 investment that had been completed a week earlier, Garcia said.
“I was beside myself,” said Garcia, 30, who lives at 165 Verona St. with his parents. “I had no idea what was going on. I thought it was an issue with plumbing.”
Although the damage to Garcia’s home was extensive, the house next door was more heavily damaged, said Ward 2 Councilor Rick Starbard, who lives on the street and represents the area. Like the Garcia’s house, the other home had a finished basement with a bathroom, which provides a low point for sewage to flow back from, he said.
The overflow, in fact, stemmed from an abundance of grease and wipes in the city’s sewer system, according to Lynn Water & Sewer Commission executive director Daniel O’Neill.
The buildup was from people who had flushed non-biodegradable products, such as sanitary wipes and grease, down their toilets and drains. As a result, a clog was created in the street’s drainage system, which caused the backup and raw sewage overflow, said Starbard.
Garcia said clean-up costs and damage from the backup could cost the family at least $20,000, according to an estimate he received from a contracted cleanup crew and another company. His family will submit the claims to LWSC, but it’s not clear whether the quasi-public authority created by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, will be held legally responsible for the damage.
“It was stressful,” Garcia said. “It left my family in shambles. First and foremost, the money is not there. I’m still in shambles to this day. I’m still in shock.”
George Markopoulos, city solicitor, said he was told the damage appeared to be from a broken pipe on private property and not one on a public way. He added the issue was not a city matter and referred all questions about who was legally responsible for the damage to Sam Vitali, an attorney for LWSC.
Vitali said the agency is investigating the claims received from the incident. He noted LWSC crews responded early that morning and took steps to remove or alleviate whatever caused the backup.
“Anyone who has a claim, we investigate,” Vitali said. “First we respond, then we investigate the cause, then we evaluate what people are claiming, and then we make a determination as to what responsibility, if any, we have.”
A letter from LWSC about the incident, obtained by The Item, reads that “it has been the experience of the Lynn Water & Sewer Commission that most such sewer backflows are the result of circumstances over which the Lynn Water & Sewer Commission has no control and for which has no legal responsibility.”
Starbard said a similar question about a municipality’s liability for damage that occurred from its infrastructure has arisen in Melrose, where a larger sewer backup damaged residents’ homes last summer.
“It’s a horrible thing to have happened,” said Starbard. “It’s bad enough when people deal with clean water flooding into their house. To have to deal with raw sewage being blown back into your house, it’s pretty horrific and unhealthy. They had called contractors in right away to begin the mitigation. I just hope there’s some kind of financial relief for them.”