Monday, September 28, 2009

New Sandy Hill Park sewer tank saves the day

EMC News - Residents who live along the periphery of Sandy Hill Park are celebrating how well the new sewer tank under the park worked after last month's record setting rains.

Karen Bays' house looks out on Sandy Hill Park, which recently had a water tank installed underneath its main field, at a cost of $18 million, and she was glad that an end-of-July downpour did not turn her basement into an indoor swimming pool.

"Rather than sue, we chose to work with the City and we kept at them," explained Bays of the decision by residents to work with the City to address the sewer back-up problem.

"Otherwise, we'd be on the front page. We're really lucky, or we'd be digging out again...We'd be in the same boat if we'd let them walk," she said.

Similar to Glen Cairn residents who had their basements flooded last month, Sandy Hill Park-area residents have faced four "once-in-a-hundred-year" storms in the past decade or so, with the last one filling basements in September of 2004.

"The causes of our floods were different because the sewer on Somerset Street East is a combined sewer," explained Bays of the 150-year-old system. "Our water couldn't get out and it backed up into our houses."

Had the water tank not been operational, "we all would've been flooded again," she said during a telephone interview on the afternoon of Friday, July 31.

"We don't want to blame the victims," Bays was quick to add of the Glen Cairn flood victims. "We don't want to be smug, but we have spent a lot of energy...trying to be more non-confrontational," she said, urging the west end residents to follow their lead.

"We had to give up a lot. We gave up our park for two years," she recalled. The fences around the park, keeping people out of an active construction zone, were removed at the end of July.

"To see that fence come down was just fantastic. I haven't realized how much I've missed the park," said a clearly elated Bays.

According to Sandy Hill Park resident and Action Sandy Hill President Robert Stehle, the tank holds 12 million litres of water and, after the late July downpour, the tank collected about 4 million litres.

"I was here when it happened and it was intense but it was brief," said a clearly happy Stehle during a telephone interview on the morning of Friday, August 7. "The park is gorgeous. The park before was a flat field...and now it has all of these characteristics," from stairs and seating to a new play structure. "It turned out to be a good park."

He added that, in conversations he has had with Ward 12 (Rideau-Vanier) City Councillor Georges Bedard, a proposal for more pedestrian lighting in the park when it gets dark is in the works.

"There are all of these little kinks that need to be worked out," said Stehle with a laugh. "There's nothing that was simple about this," he added, looking back on the long process it took to get the tank into being a reality.

"Just like the people out in Glen Cairn, we (too) reached a point," with water flooding resident's basements on a regular basis, he said. He met with a number of lawyers, since "one group (of residents) wanted to do a class action law suit," against the City.

But Stehle realized that "When you do a class action, you get some money. (But) is the problem fixed? No."

So, Stehle, Bays and other residents approached the City and began working with them to find a solution.

"Wew were involved as an advocate and as a partner," said Stehle. "People sat around and helped design it...There's so much of us in this park. We are the reason why this happened. It was a slug fest."

At the beginning of the conversations with the City, there were two options on the table for consideration, which included "a huge sewer down Somerset Street East...that would hold everything. "Or, to re-do the park over here with a tank. "We felt that the disruption on Somerset could kill the businesses on Somerset," so the tank in the park option was chosen.

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