Sunday, December 16, 2012

WaPo: "Mayor, DC Water against council plan to reimburse NW flood victims", that is, in Bloomingdale and LeDroit Park

Bloomingdale in the news again!

By Tim Craig, Published: December 15
Mayor Vincent C. Gray and senior D.C. Water officials hope to derail a D.C. Council plan that would reimburse flood victims in Northwest, saying it would set a precedent that could leave taxpayers on the hook for millions in future uninsured claims.
When heavy rains overwhelmed the city`s sewer system this summer in Bloomingdale and LeDroit Park, about 200 homeowners and renters reported damage from floodwater seeping under doors or sewage forced into their homes through pipes.
Some of the damage is not covered by homeowners` insurance, so the council has tentatively approved a bill that would establish a $1 million fund to pay for damage claims. The fund, expected to get final council approval Tuesday, would be paid for through an assessment on residential water bills.
But some District officials warn that the plan would make residents dependent on the city government for uninsured or underinsured damage from storms or aging infrastructure and would expose ratepayers to claims from flood victims who reside in basement units built without city approval. 
``I just have a lot of reservations about the District of Columbia in essence becoming an insurance company,`` said Gray (D), who recently unveiled a $40 million plan to divert storm water away from recently flooded areas. ``We certainly want to do what we can that is reasonable to help the people of Bloomingdale, and that is what we are trying to do.``
The mayor`s stance sets up a potential rift with council member Kenyan R. McDuffie (D), a former Gray administration official who represents Bloomingdale and other Ward 5 neighborhoods.
McDuffie crafted the plan with council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) and argues that the payments are warranted because the District has been slow to replace aging sewer lines that cannot handle runoff from severe storms.
``I think the bad precedent is if we do nothing about this,`` McDuffie said. ``We have people with raw sewage in their basement and people with mold subjecting themselves to all kinds of health hazards if we do nothing about this.``
The measure
Under the bill, District residents who can prove damage from a sewer backup between June 1, 2012, and Sept. 30, 2014, can apply for reimbursement.
The District ended fiscal 2012 with a $140 million surplus and the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority reported a $20.5 million surplus this summer, but the council would use a new assessment on water bills to pay for the program.
The assessment would result in no more than an additional 30 cents a month on the average homeowner`s water bill, McDuffie said. The legislation exempts low-income residents enrolled in D.C. Water`s assistance program from paying the new fee.
George S. Hawkins, general manager of D.C. Water, warns that the legislation does not outright exempt federal agencies from the new fee, setting up a likely dispute with federal officials over whether the city can assess a new ``tax`` on those bills.
But Hawkins said he is most concerned that the measure would establish a new threshold by which government agencies and utilities are held liable for the condition of a century-old system of 1,300 miles of water pipes and 1,800 miles of sewer pipes.
D.C. Water and most other utilities nationwide pay claims only as a result of ``negligence`` not related to worn pipes and valves or acts of nature, Hawkins said. The agency, for example, will not reimburse a homeowner for damage from a faulty pipe unless a utility employee caused the incident.
Because a water-main break or flood cannot be predicted, Hawkins said, the agency would have to set aside millions each year to pay claims. That would divert resources from capital projects, including a $600 million effort to solve flooding problems in Bloomingdale.
``All of our costs are paid for by everybody else, so the question is, when do we use the whole ratepayer roll to pay back individual ratepayers?`` Hawkins said. ``It opens the door, and there are a lot of potential places where that can happen and be claimed.``
Many Bloomingdale and LeDroit Park residents counter that there is little doubt about who is liable for the recent damage. During one storm this summer, ankle-deep water rushed through the sewer pipe and into Jared E. Moffett`s basement apartment. He said D.C. Water should pay because it is known that the area`s sewer system can be overwhelmed by heavy rain.
``Many of us, including myself, have been literally forced to spend thousands of dollars to clean, replace damaged property and safeguard our homes because of these sewer backups,`` Moffett said.
Updated equipment
City leaders said that at least some of the damage in Bloomingdale could have been prevented if more households were equipped with back-water valves, devices that help block storm water and sewage from backing up into homes.
Since 1987, the devices have been required in newly built or renovated properties that sit below the closest manhole cover, said Helder Gil, a spokesman for the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. But he said a review found the devices were never installed in some of the flooded properties in Bloomingdale because some homeowners converted basements into apartments without proper city approval.
``It`s an issue we find throughout the city,`` Gil said. ``If you did not get the proper permits, most likely you did not install the back-flow preventer.``
The Washington Post filed a Freedom of Information Act request with D.C. Water for a list of flooded Bloomingdale properties to compare them against DCRA permit records.
Citing privacy concerns, D.C. Water attorneys redacted the address numbers of damaged properties from the agency`s response. But the agency said it has received 34 claims for damage from the recent rains near Bloomingdale, all but three for basements or basement condominiums.
McDuffie acknowledged that some basement units may have been illegally converted but said that D.C. Water should have taken steps years ago to reduce runoff in the area.
``This is one of the most basic services of government: providing clean water when you want it but not getting raw sewage in your basement,`` McDuffie said.
7:15 AM EST
If Bloomingdale homeowners were unaware of the flood risk when they bought their homes, it seems they have grounds for a lawsuit against the sellers, no? This flooding has been a problem for many years. So ALL of us in D.C. must pay for people`s uninsured property damage? That`s not right.
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6:15 AM EST
The mayor is correct. If we allow these people to receive compensation from our tax funds, then why not compensate for every flooding of a home or apartment? Why aren`t these residents buying insurance?
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Nats Guy
3:08 AM EST
Of course he`s against reimbursement. Less money for him to mismanage or embezzle.
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1:58 AM EST
Engineers have said that it would take years and lots of money to come up with a plan to solve the problem.
It has always been that way in that part of town.
Lots of folks never got a dime that lived there so who lives there now that thank they should.
Should have research and they would have found out its always been that way.
Just not there Benning road on the south side had the same problem.
It should be fix but setting up a fund now is not the answer.
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1:11 AM EST
All they had to do was clean out the storm drains before the storms, until waiting for 3 or more floods to occur. After they cleaned all the leaves and trash and crap out of the drains VOILA , no more floods. If they did not have the personnel to do it, hire some temporary workers. There are plenty of men walking around DC all day and night doing nothing, who wouldn`t mind a job if only temporary.
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12/15/2012 10:20 PM EST
The Mayor is correct. The residents of Bloomingdale do not deserve special treatment--which is exactly what this is. And how long is this surcharge going to last? I suspect that it will NEVER disappear, even long after all of the newer residents of Bloomingdale have moved back to the suburbs after their kids age out from kindergarten and have to attend DC Public Schools. Since the Council want to insure certain people, I want reimbursement for all of us who had to drive on Pennsylvania SE while DDOT took 2 years to re-pave two miles of road. My front end was knocked out of alignment by the horrible road conditions and I want justice!!.
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2:04 AM EST
Amen, PepperDr.

12/15/2012 8:29 PM EST
The Bloomingdale neighborhood has been flooding for years. Only now that we have a large concentration of whites living in the neighborhood are we moved to raise fees in an effort to make infrastructure improvements on an aging system.
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12/15/2012 7:36 PM EST
I can see where the city council is coming from and where Gray is coming from. I lean towards Gray.
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12/15/2012 7:30 PM EST
why didn`t the council first ask the Mayor if there is enough money in the budget in the first place????
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12/15/2012 7:55 PM EST
That is because they are responding to a chronic problem with a ``knee-jerk`` solution and the best way to fund the reimbursement of residents in that area of town is to create an additional water tax the revenue of which would reside in a relief fund.

Great we have a flood and residents can get reparation from that fund due to a bad infrastructure. Repeat this a few times and the fund is depleted. Residents get up in arms and members of council come up with another brilliant idea. Let`s increase the water tax and generate more revenue for the relief fund to reimburse my residents.

Short-sighted and a remedy that does not address the PROBLEM!~
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12/15/2012 8:14 PM EST
That sounds like hard work and too much thinking.
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12/15/2012 9:21 PM EST

Hard work and too much thinking... for whom? You bring out at least 2 elements that solve problems. Not everyone is cut out for the job. The aging infrastructure we speak of here has been in place for centuries in some places. So lets see... now we ought to go back and get rid of Mayors that did nothing about the same problem... Again this is not the answer.

12/15/2012 7:25 PM EST
It is not my problem that these people did not insure themselves properly and I shouldn`t have to pay for it! 
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12/15/2012 8:00 PM EST
Dude you don`t live in a bubble!

I do agree that you should not have to be the insurer of residents in any area of town.

However, a problem in any part of town affects us all. Hope that you or anyone that you care about doesn`t accidently ends up on the road in that area during a storm and get your car completely flooded out!

There is a problem but let`s work together on a longer term solution to the problem.
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12/15/2012 11:02 PM EST
@DCChamp3 I live in an area which regularly floods unless DPW clears out the drains beforehand. And guess what? When I learned that flooding is a problem, I BOUGHT INSURANCE!!! I`ve had my car flooded and guess what? I PAID TO GET IT REPAIRED!!! I didn`t ask anyone to bail me out. I don`t expect the government to bail me out every time I have a problem. 

Funny how when ``some`` people ask for help, they are called free loaders and lazy, but when ``other`` people fail to properly prepare and want the government to help them, they are called ``victims``. IJS
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12:37 AM EST
Never said you should bail anybody out! Said that DC is our town so we all need a solution and the tax is not it. 

Rhode Island avenue is a major roadway where emergency vehicles traverse the city NE to NW where the hospitals are. 

If you read the post what I am saying is a solution is needed but a real one that is not a bandaid over a bullet hole.

Giving people money for their losses does not fix the pipes only the squeaking! 

The infrastructure is broken and just like PEPCO and power outages it will happen again. Having insurance is a good thing but if your neighborhood is flooded continually then what happens to your rates? After your rates rise the next step is you get dropped.

I`m all for a solution but a real one!

2:08 AM EST
dcchamp3, have you lost your freakin mind? D.C. residents shouldn`t have to be the insurer of residents in Bloomingdale. This is what flood insurance is for. People should have did their research before moving to this area of the city purchasing a home or Condo. As a Ward 4 resident, I am outraged over this stupid legislation.

Ward 4 Resident
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12/15/2012 5:59 PM EST
The sooner Gray leaves the better.
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12/15/2012 7:41 PM EST
Dude is that all you can think of to say? Glad you are leading anything. The Mayor is right on this one!

``The Problem``

The infrastucture throughout the city is shot! The worst of the worst is in Bloomindale. When it rains they get screwed.

The McDuffie/Cheh Proposal

So let`s make this generation of DC residents pay now for what was not done to upgrade the system for centuries so that Bloomingdale residents can get reimbursed.

First that dose not fix the flooding problem.

Second, once you do that would you be willing to pay when the Gold Coast floods or SW or SE. I can just hear the people in Bloomingdale and SE say that they would be happy to pay residents in Ward 4 for damages they incurred due to flooding.
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12/15/2012 8:45 PM EST
in terms of what gray has done as mayor he is doing great crime is down schools are better we have a surplus of cash unemployment is down those are major things people judge mayors by money crime schools and unemployment ... now the way he won elaction is another story but what he has done in office is good
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12/15/2012 9:31 PM EST
Thank you underb87!

How many people under the scrutiny this mayor has been under would continue to get up in the morning and do the job he was elected to do?

There has been so much attention given to who did what and when and so little on the right things that have been done. Trash picked up? Street lights on? Leaves picked up? Snow removed? Housing values up? Unemployment down? More jobs created? Economic development plan? New bike lanes (L street)? New convention center hotel? Bars open later? 

Is everything perfect here? Of course not. Hate the speed cameras and despise the fines. Not crazy about bikes (unregulated) on roadways not a good mix with cars especially in the declared worst driving city in the nation (result?). The CFOs office is out of control. 

None of that matters. Most still love it here in DC and more should do more to make it a better place instead of waiting for somebody else to do it for you.
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12/15/2012 9:42 PM EST
Gray is STILL there ? ``Toxic waste`` is hard to get rid of !

12/15/2012 9:49 PM EST
``Just like a mind is a terrible thing to have``.

Let`s say blueleadermike is accused of doing something illegal but has not been proved by the local prosecutor much less charged. Mr. Mike hires a lawyer and under advise of counsel says nothing about pending litigation. Mike listens to his lawyer and under presumed innocence continues to go to work and do his job. 

Then we should all join in and say ``Toxic waste`` is hard to get rid of!

This is America dude, the greatest country on the planet!
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Bloomingdale Resident said...

Comment - This bill is for all District residents, not just Blooningdale and LeDroit Park.

Question - If the bill passes on Tuesday, do you think the Mayor would veto it?

Question - How many basement owners have renovated since 1987 and were told by DCRA to install a BFP/BWV?

John Novak said...

$.30 cents a month...$3.60 on average more a year to help out hundreds of people who have flooded over and over and over again, fellow Washingtonians, and all these people above are complaining...Gosh why am I not surprised. The reimbursement fund isn't the perfect solution but it makes people whole when it is clear DC Water is going to go to the mat with lawyers and such if people file suit...Sometimes the selfishness and lack of humanity in this city is staggering.