A massive water main break affecting about 55 homes in St. Louis Park has left some residents in despair amid large cleanup bills.
Following an outcry from affected residents, the St. Louis Park City Council called an emergency meeting on May 25 – four days after a water main break caused the flow of water. water in the city’s sanitary sewer system and in basements in the area. Water levels reached up to 3 feet.
The rupture occurred on Minnetonka Boulevard between Texas and Sumter avenues and spilled more than a million gallons of water, according to city reports.
Many residents reported that their insurance companies would not cover the damages, most of which were extensive. City officials said a municipal insurance policy is limited to $250,000 per incident, resulting in limited funds per household.
At the emergency meeting, the city council voted 5-2 to provide $300,000 in emergency aid, with a total of up to $30,000 per home for cleanup. Council members Sue Budd and Nadia Mohamed voted against the arrangement, arguing they preferred the city to immediately provide cleanup funds available to more residents.
However, questions lingered during the three-hour emergency meeting over whether recipients would have to waive any liability claims against the city to receive the money and how much additional money the city would have to provide. . The question of whether the city could legally provide grants for restoration instead of just cleaning was also discussed.
City staff had proposed that the city reimburse up to $30,000 per affected home for cleanup in a first phase, followed by another $30,000 in restoration loans. Households earning less than half of the region’s median income would not have had to pay interest on the loans, while the city would have charged 2% interest to other beneficiaries to offset the city’s costs, in the framework of the proposal. Residents would have had up to 10 years to repay the loans.
City staff’s proposal would also have provided loans of up to $75,000 for each affected business, with 2% interest over 20 years.
The city would have used federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act for reimbursement payments while using funds from the General Taxpayer Levy for homeowner loans.
While council only took action on the $300,000 emergency reimbursement fund, members generally agreed the city needed to do more for affected residents. They suggested another emergency meeting might be possible.
Anger and sadness of residents
Many speakers at the emergency meeting strongly rejected the staff proposal, with some saying the damage to their homes could exceed $100,000 or more. Some speakers angrily held up photos of the damage. Tears flowed both in the audience and on the council dais, as council member Sue Budd expressed her dismay at the difficulties. An elderly resident said he had suicidal thoughts following the disaster.
Quebec Avenue resident Julie North said insurance would not cover their costs. She disputed city communications that claimed the city informed the owners by going door-to-door, noting that she learned of the breakup from her neighbor and by questioning a police officer on Minnetonka Boulevard.
Rhode Island Avenue resident Dimitrious Lalos said he and his family invested $140,000 to buy their home a month ago.
“It’s probably gone now,” Lalos said.
His wife first noticed the problem, thinking there was water left.
“Went down to see a horror movie – water gushing out of our toilet,” Lalos said, adding that the water was up to 16 inches deep.
Quebec Avenue resident Camille Gipple said she was on a tight budget and no one to help her, with her insurance company removing fans from the basement after determining her policy would not cover the damage.
“I don’t even know what to do,” said Gipple, who said she couldn’t afford to pay for the cleanup and was worried about mold. “My neighbors tell me it’s not safe to be in the house.”
A new oven is in ruins but will still cost him hundreds of dollars a month, while a freezer is also destroyed and silt covers his basement.
“There’s a lot of emotional angst about it,” Gipple said.
Adam Snyder, also a Quebec Avenue resident, said his costs would exceed $60,000 and he planned to sell his house in three weeks.
“We have to move forward with all of these corrective measures and everything and just hope that you are successful with the funds because we are in a very difficult position,” Snyder said.
Jennifer Snyder took issue with the fact that council waited until May 25 to call an emergency meeting, after residents informed the media.
“You saying your genuine care and compassion wasn’t even close to being on display this week,” she said.
Jeff Withers of Rhode Island Avenue asked council members, “How would you rate yourself?
Jim Lefebvre of Quebec Avenue said the incident destroyed his home.
“Your answer is an insult to a long time taxpayer in this community, and it should not stand – and we will see that we will do everything in our power as a group to see that it is not the case,” Lefebvre said.
In response to residents, Budd began to say council members had to imagine how they would react if their own homes were hit but then smothered.
“I don’t have any magic words to say,” Budd said. “I understand how devastating this is, and it is tragic.”
She regretted not visiting the homes sooner than she did and said she wanted to stand up for the affected residents.
“It’s not good to hear that people think it’s not a good offer and even insulting,” Budd said of the staff proposal. “That bothers me.”
However, council member Tim Brausen called the staff’s proposal “a very good starting point to try to give you immediate relief”, adding that the city should raise taxes across the city to provide more funds. He made a motion to adopt the staff proposal, but the motion died for lack of a second, drawing applause from the residents.
Mayor Jake Spano has suggested the city provide up to $50,000 per home for the cleanup phase of city aid, a move that could cost the city up to $2.7 million, but would not provide restoration loans.
“Make it simple and easy,” Spano said.
Councilor Nadia Mohamed replied that she preferred two phases so that people could still use loans for restoration instead of the city only providing money for cleanup.
Council member Larry Kraft suggested the city provide up to $50,000 per house for cleanup and $30,000 in loans per house. His proposal would have required residents to waive the city’s liability, which he said would protect the city from additional costs.
However, many residents asked for clarification on what would be considered cleaning and what would be considered restoration.
After more debate, Brausen proposed that the city create a $150,000 emergency grant program to meet immediate needs. After much discussion about the scope of this funding, Brausen later amended his motion to include $300,000 instead.
Budd objected because the amount could limit funding to just 10 homes if each received the maximum $30,000. She said she preferred to provide a higher amount of funding for the cleanup at the meeting.
Similarly, Mohamed said, “It feels like a first-come, first-served situation and whoever can get there the fastest.”
Since the city will require recipients to sign a liability waiver to get the money, Brausen said he’d be surprised if more than 10 homeowners seek to fully avail themselves of the emergency funds.
“I think it will definitely be there for emergency use – that people who desperately need it have it,” he said. “I’m not saying it’s an adequate remedy for that either. I know we will see it again and we will have a lot more information about it.
The city followed up the May 25 emergency meeting with a May 26 neighborhood meeting at the Lenox Community Center. The city posted updates on the issue on stlouispark.org under “Our City” and “City News.”
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