Church calls on the city to ‘do the right thing’ after basement fills with sewage

PETERSBURG, Va. -- A Petersburg church is calling on the city to ‘do the right thing’ after their basement was filled with sewage.

“We would hope that the city would step up,” said Lakemont Baptist Church pastor Larry Taylor.

Lakemont Baptist Church discovered that their basement was filled with liquid November 8, 2018 when they walked downstairs to check on their furnace.

“The farther you walk you realize ohh I'm in some kind of water,” said former church member Bo Ozmore Jr. “Then we realized all of that crap down there is sludge.”

The church called Colonial Plumbing Heating and Air to investigate and fix the problem.

“We went in the basement saw that sewage was coming up in the basement went out and pulled one of the city manholes found that to be stopped up,” said James Kester with Colonial Plumbing Heating and Air. “The city manhole was higher than the plumbing fixtures in the basement so it wouldn’t relieve itself out in the manhole only in the basement.”

“We determined that the problem was not in the church’s sewer line itself but actually in the city’s sewer main that the church connects to,” said Kester. “There’s no way they (the church) could have stopped this event from happening and had no involvement in the event.”

Colonial Plumbing notified the city that the issue was coming from a city line.

“The only way to stop this problem is to unstop that city main so until that happened sewage continued to come into the basement,” said Kester.

“Have you ever smelt a landfill on a bad day the wind is blowing the wrong way after a rain?” asked Taylor. “That’s what it smelled like in here it was absolutely, the stench was horrendous.”

Kester said the issue was resolved as soon as the city came out. But the church had to spend $7,386.24 to clean up the waste.

“The money that it took to get the basement cleaned up pretty much wiped us out,” said Taylor. If it hadn’t been for someone making an anonymous donation I don’t know what we would have done to be honest with you. $7,000 could be the difference of keeping the doors open here another year or not.”

The church was going to use those funds to replace their leaky roof and make other maintenance repairs.

The church filed a claim with the city to get reimbursed for their expenses but were notified by the city’s insurance company that the claim was denied. In a letter dated April 3, 2019, a claims specialist with Virginia Association of Counties Group Self-Insurance Risk Pool wrote, “Our investigation of the incident indicates no liability on the part of the City of Petersburg. VACORP only makes payments for claims in which our members are legally liable. Per our investigation conclusion, VACORP must respectfully deny making any liability payment on this claim.”

Under the Freedom of Information Act, CBS 6 requested documents related to the claim the church made with the city and the last two years of maintenance records for water sewer lines along Monument Avenue and Prince George Avenue.

In a Department of Public Utilities “Division Incident Report” dated 11/8/18 it states, “The main sewer line was stopped up possibly causing water to back up into the building basement. However, the sewer crew corrected the problem. The area is also on the monthly preventative maintenance list.”

The document indicates that it was checked the second week of October 2018.

The city was asked by risk management if it had prior knowledge of any issues regarding sewer lines being backed up and if so, when was the city placed on notice and what action was taken prior to this incident.

The City responded that they had no prior knowledge of issues regarding 1510 Prince George Avenue where the church is located. They said, “This location on Prince George ave. hardly ever back-up, (sic) in the block the church is in. The trouble we have in the area is in E. Washington St., about a 1/2 mile downstream, that caused several streets in the area to back-up including Prince George ave. We check it once (a) month and sometimes twice (a) month and also jet truck clean the line once a year.”

CBS 6 reached out to the city of Petersburg for comment a spokesperson said, “The area up to and including East Washington street was previously on a monthly to bimonthly check, including yearly jetting of the lines. Our crew identified that the address in question was not a recurring problem location. However, unfinished bathrooms with mechanical plugs in lieu of the toilets were identified inside the facility. The matter was ultimately referred to VACORP regarding a claim.”

CBS 6 reached out to VACORP and they said they do not comment on claims but agreed to talk to the church directly about appealing the decision.

“The city just needs to do the right thing it’s their line their responsibility,” said Taylor. “Our only hope is that they’ll reimburse us for what we had to pay.”

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