Bay Roberts councillors untangle knotty sewer problem

By Craig Westcott / August 11, 2023

Bay Roberts council had a tangled knot to unsnarl last month: what to do about the cost of repairs to a resident’s sewer line that became clogged with roots from trees on Town-owned land?

Public Works director Sean Elms outlined the situation to council and the possible options.

Elms said the resident of Cable Avenue discovered the source of the clog after he called a contractor to clear his line and the excavation exposed roots in the sewer pipe.

Cable Avenue is a picturesque, but short, narrow, tree-lined street with older homes whose property lines extend right to the pavement or shoulder of the road in most cases. It is located within the town’s Municipal Heritage District, which places an onus on council to maintain the street’s tree canopied appeared.

In this particular case, the roots were removed, and the line is working well again, Elms said, but the Town must decide how much responsibility, if any, it has for the cost of the work because it was Town-owned trees that caused the problem.

“So, I guess there is a correlation of the Town being somewhat responsible,” said Elms. “That being said, we know of one other house on the street (where the sewer line) too had to be repaired, not to quite the same proportion, but there’s probably numerous other cases potentially in the future.”

But Elms suggested that before the Town pay any bills for the work, it develop a policy to guide future cases.

The director suggested four options in this case: the Town could simply pay the resident’s excavation and repair bills; not pay the bills; replace the service line on the road and not pay the resident’s bills; or replace the service line and pay the resident’s bills.

Council was skeptical that the Town would be responsible for that part of the sewer line extending through private property up to the house’s foundation.

“I think it would be awfully strange if we were to be responsible right up to the foundation,” chief administrative officer Nigel Black agreed. “I just don’t think that’s the case. I think it’s likely to the property boundary. But that being said, it is our problem, really. The problem is associated with our trees, which are outside the property boundaries, so it’s up to you what you want to do about it.”

Deputy Mayor Geoff Seymour argued that paying the resident’s bill wouldn’t solve anything.

“My suggestion would be to give the owner an option,” he said. “If you want us to pay the bill, we’ll pay the bill, but if you sign (off on) it, we’re done, we have no responsibility for it (in the future). Or you can pay the bill and we’ll fix the line (in the street) so there’s no more trouble from it.”

Both councillor Perry Bowering and Mayor Walter Yetman wanted to know how much the repairs had cost the homeowner.

Elms said he understood there were two contractors involved. The price was about $1,650.

After some further discussion, council agreed to run Seymour’s suggestion by the resident for a response.

Bowering wanted to know what will happen if something similar occurs on other streets.

“This is going to have to be looked at on a case-by-case basis,” said Seymour.

Councillor Dean Franey expressed concern that the resident had called in a contractor before informing the Town that he had a problem. “That wouldn’t bother me,” said councillor Silas Badcock. “They had a problem and were trying to fix it.”

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