IRISHTOWN-SUMMERSIDE When Daphne Park came home to find her hot water tank blown and her basement flooded, she thought things couldn’t get much worse.
That is, until she learned most of the family pictures and documents she’d carefully collected and stored in plastic boxes, as well as filing cabinet, had been destroyed.
“I thought everything was safe until the next day,” Park said Friday from her home in Summerside. “I went downstairs and the cabinet was full of water, where the water was hitting it and dripping down; everything was sitting in water for two days and we did not know it.”
The incident occurred two weeks ago when the town’s water was turned back on after being shut off due to construction across the street from Park’s home. Her home was one of several in the community which received damage over the last number of weeks as the town has struggled to fix an issue in its water system.
Last week, engineers from Atlantic Engineering and the Department of Environment and Conservation determined the issue was with a mechanism which regulated water pressure in the town’s pumphouse. The defect resulted in a water hammer sending over 200 pounds per square inch of pressure through the lines, into residents’ homes.
The town has since said residents may be eligible for reimbursement on a case-by-case basis.
But no amount of money can replace the lost stories, pictures and family items Park has been collecting over the last 35 years. Many of the items were research she’d done into her Mi’kmaq heritage, stories passed down through the generations from relatives who have long since died. Others were pictures of her two grown sons as children.
“When I saw the damage, I just picked up two or three things and started to cry,” she said, the emotion still evident in her voice. “I left the laundry room, I left the house because I just couldn’t look at it.”
Park would like to see some of her ruined books be replaced by council if possible, as well as the pressure reducing valve (PRV) from her hot water tank, one she said she actually bought from the town.
But as someone who has travelled around the island for decades in order to compile the documents she’d stored, she said her only solace now is to start again in order to preserve the information for her four grandchildren.
“Anybody can tell you family research and the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band is my life,” she said “Although my research has been destroyed, it’s still in my head ... I know the genealogy part of it.”
Meanwhile, for Summerside resident Barry Wheeler, this is the second time in two years he’s had his basement flooded by surging water from the town’s supply.
He said last year, council told him his plumbing and PRV were too old. While he considered legal action, he offered to split the estimated $5,600 repair bill with the town but was refused. He later did the work himself with a cost of $2,800.
This year, he’s already spent $1,000 and he figures it will take him at least $5,000 to replace the ruined carpeting, dry wall, insulation and water valves caused by the surge and subsequent flooding. He’s also had to rent commercial dryers and dehumidifiers to dry his basement and is now worried about mold.
While council insists the issue is resolved, Wheeler said to have such extensive damage in subsequent years could mean there is a problem which goes beyond old plumbing. Like many small municipalities with limited budgets, Wheeler said although the town trains someone to look after the water system, such an employees’ technical knowledge is often limited.
“These people aren’t engineers; they aren’t trained in flow analysis or pressure analysis,” Wheeler said, noting the solution could be hiring an engineer to test and maintain water systems all along the north shore. “They can only do what they’re actually shown. If their knowledge is passed down or if they are relying on refresher courses, we get the situation we are in now.”
Wheeler has organized an online petition calling on council to assure residents the issue is finally resolved and to provide reimbursement to those who have incurred water damage. He has a list of over 32 names of people looking for similar compensation and will soon draft a letter and present it to council.
Ultimately, he and other residents would like to see the problem resolved before someone is hurt by the surges which are often greater than 200 pounds per square inch.
“I’ve had people tell me their caps blew off their sink. Others have said the flush boxes on their toilet bowl blew off,” he said. “It’s happened in new houses and houses that did repairs last year. My mother put in a new hot water tank and a new blow-off valve two months ago and it blew this time.”