Furious St. Louis Park residents whose homes were flooded over the weekend by a massive water main break told city leaders Wednesday night they weren't doing enough to help them recover from the unprecedented rupture.
Homeowners woke up early Saturday to brown sludgy water gushing through toilets and drains in their basements, as up to 3 feet of water flooded 55 homes in the Texa-Tonka neighborhood. The pressure of 1.1 million gallons of leaked water penetrated a nearby sanitary sewer manhole, but the cause of the pipe burst remains unknown.
"We are all in tears. We don't know what to do," said Jennifer Snyder, who with her husband, Adam, was scrambling to mitigate the flood damage and reconstruct the basement in their Quebec Avenue home, which they have sold and need to turn over to buyers in two weeks. Their young children, she said, "lost every single toy and belonging. It's all gone."
The emergency meeting lasted three hours, as Mayor Jake Spano, City Council members, staffers and residents discussed the best ways to provide immediate relief.
The council presented a plan that would reimburse residents up to $30,000 in clean-up costs and provide an additional $30,000 low-cost loan with 2% interest, tapping some of the $5 million dollars that St. Louis Park received from the federal American Rescue Plan Act for COVID-19 relief.
But residents said they shouldn't have to take out a loan to fix something that was no fault of their own, and Spano agreed they shouldn't have to pay interest on the loan. "My basement's flooded before, but not like this," he said.
The council voted 5-2 to approve a funding package of $300,000 for those residents in most need of help. Council Members Nadia Mohamed and Sue Budd, who represents the affected neighborhood, voted no because they said the funding will be allocated on a first-come, first-serve basis and that granting up to $30,000 per home would be fairer.
Spano asked city staffers to consider an investigation into the cause of the water main break, and Council Member Tim Brausen proposed seeking state assistance for emergency relief. The next steps for financial relief for residents were to be discussed Thursday night at a community meeting at Lenox Community Center.
City officials said that construction of an apartment building didn't cause the break in the 66-year-old cast iron pipe. But some residents were skeptical, given the building's proximity to the site of the rupture.
They also objected to officials saying they went door to door notifying them of the break, when they said neighbors spread the word themselves.
According to 911 dispatch logs, the first call about flooding came in at 5 a.m. Crews were reportedly on the scene at 7 a.m., and water was shut off shortly after that. But residents say water continued to fill basements for hours, contradicting city statements that it was off within 90 minutes.
Residents along Quebec, Sumter and Rhode Island avenues said they were angry that elected officials failed to visit their neighborhood after the main break. Some said they were still without heat, hot water and gas, and that their insurance policies wouldn't cover damage from backed-up sewage estimated to go as high as $75,000 per home.
Camille Hammar-Gipple, who said she deals with depression and anxiety, told the council she became suicidal the other night. "Our house reeks. It absolutely reeks," she said, adding that her insurance won't cover clean-up costs and her basement is damp and moldy.
Julie North, who sobbed while listening to Hammar-Gipple, told the council that the city's offer to clean sewer lines was four days too late since everyone had already spent roughly $500 to do that.
Dimitrios Lalos said he moved into his Rhode Island Avenue home one month ago, putting $140,000 down on the purchase. "That's probably gone now," he said.
"In addition, since Saturday I've seen none of you folks," he said to the council. "I would've loved and appreciated you all coming down and having that conversation … seeing what all our basements look like."
Theresa Wirtz, a 57-year-old disabled artist, said she had flood insurance — unlike most of her neighbors — but that the $14,750 payout wouldn't cover all her losses. "We would appreciate a show of support. This has been traumatizing," she said. "You don't have to do anything but show up."