SAWS, customer finally agree to damages from sewer spill

Customer wanted times what SAWS was offering

SAN ANTONIO – A west San Antonio man has now settled a disagreement with the San Antonio Water System over the damage done to his home during a sewer spill in April.

After the KSAT 12 Defenders got involved, SAWS raised the amount it was willing to pay from $5,000 to $6,500.

Homeowner Bart Wade said he is happy to have the issue settled, but still not happy with the outcome.

Wade's home was a mess shortly after he got home from work at midnight on April 4.

"About 20 minutes later the smell was overwhelming," Wade said. "I went in and it was just everywhere. It had overflowed the bathtub and the commodes. "

The sewage had erupted through a manhole in the street and from one in the alley behind his home, and then into his home.

He was quickly on the phone trying to get some help.

"About 5 a.m. in the morning, 5:30 a.m., they started cleaning it up," Wade said.

SAWS paid for the cleanup, which included taking out sheet rock and ripping up carpet.

The utility then gave Wade a $5,000 offer for repairs and other losses.

He declined, saying his losses total some $16,000 and that SAWS missed some of the damage.

"The bathtub's going to have to come out, the shower's going to have to come out because it's obvious that seepage would have gone underneath it," Wade said. "You can see the cracks. When they pull out the bathtub and the shower they know what they're going to find in there. And it's going to have to be cleaned up and you have to be careful."

He said he assumed SAWS would make full reparations.

"I should be able to trust them," Wade said. "They did not put my best interest forward at all. I mean it was very, very bad."

SAWS spokeswoman Anne Hayden said the utility's offer was fair for the damages sustained to Wade's house.

She said SAWS tallied up all of the losses and even included a little bit extra for the inconvenience.

"We tracked how much the sewage had gotten into the walls and it really wasn't very much," Hayden said. "We provided a settlement offer to allow for replacing the drywall, to replace the tiles, the vinyl tiles in the bathroom, to replace the carpet in the bedroom. Unfortunately he's rejected that offer and asked for a higher amount."

She said SAWS cannot go beyond actual damages.

"We have to follow very specific processes on this to make sure that while we want to pay for the damage, we also have a responsibility to our ratepayers to make sure that we don't overpay," Hayden said. "This is all self-funded, self-insured, so it's not coming from some third party insurance company, it's coming from ratepayer funds."

She also said the SAWS negotiator had not heard from Wade about why their offer was unfair.

After Wade accepted the $6,500 offer, Hayden said she too was pleased.

"We were able to reach a solution with Mr. Wade," Hayden said. "It was a little bit more than we initially offered and it wasn't quite as much as he asked for so it seemed to be fair to both parties."

Wade contacted the Defenders for help after seeing a story earlier this month on sewer cleaning.

SAWS has agreed with the Environmental Protection Agency to clean more sewer lines to avoid spills.

Contractors and SAWS crews cleaned nearly 2,000 miles of sewer pipe last year.

This year it will spend $10 million to clean the same amount of larger diameter pipe.

The goal is to avoid spills like one in November, when SAWS crews were called to Salado Creek.

A 66-inch sewer line was clogged with debris and spewed sewage into the creek.