Upset homeowners at flood meeting
By Hedy Korbee
More than two hundred people, many of them angry and frustrated, gathered at a church at McCowan and Kingston Road last night to discuss how their basements flooded with stormwater and raw sewage last weekend and seek information from Toronto city councillors.
Ninety millimetres of rain fell in southwest Scarborough in a two-hour period on Sunday July 15th, prompting 529 calls to the city’s information line 311. The area with the largest number of calls was Ward 36, which includes Birch Cliff.
The meeting was organized by an ad hoc group of residents that included Sam Fortomaris, one of many people at the church whose basement has flooded twice in recent years. In 2007 he said he incurred $18,000 in damage and this time it’s $50,000:
“Honourable Mayor Ford. You can not store your excess sewer water in our basements any more. This is not acceptable. And to quote the 1970’s movie ‘Network’, we are mad as hell and we’re not going to take this any more,” Fortomaris said.
The meeting lasted three hours and covered a lot of ground, with councillors Gary Crawford (Ward 36) and Glenn De Baeremaeker (Ward 38) doing their best to answer questions and making promises to find out when they didn’t have answers.
A key concern raised at the meeting was the issue of home insurance and rising premiums.
“We can’t reno our basements every two years while our insurance premiums continue to rise,” said Fortomaris.
One homeowner who spoke wishes to remain anonymous because she doesn’t want her insurance company to know about Sunday’s flooding. She said she’s been fighting with her insurer for two years, since her basement on Rhydwen Avenue first flooded in August 2010:
“I have insurance but I can’t make a second claim. My broker said my premiums will go up, or if I switch companies I won’t be able to get insurance.”
The situation is even more serious for those homeowners who don’t have insurance, or can’t afford the deductible and therefore can’t make a claim
Gary Crawford said he’s heard from several people in a hardship situation and his office is trying to figure out a way to help. He urged anyone in a similar position to contact his staff:
“If you don’t have insurance, this entire process will be much more challenging. You won’t have an insurance company by your side, but you will have your councillor’s office working with you,” Crawford said.
One person asked the councillors to confirm a rumour that the city had an emergency fund to help people to pay their insurance deductibles. Glenn De Baeremaeker said he’s never heard of such a fund in his eight years on Council and does not think it exists.
Many people in the audience raised health concerns and there was conflicting information, prompting some to wonder why Toronto Public Health isn’t being more proactive.
When storm water and raw sewage started spurting out of the toilets, floor drains, sinks and shower heads, many people rushed downstairs with bare feet and ungloved hands to try to salvage their possessions. Although some homeowners had restoration crews despatched by their insurance companies to do the dirty work, many did not.
People have reported that feces, condoms and feminine hygiene products were floating in their basements.
An emotional woman who lives on Avalon Boulevard says there are ten people sick on that street, including her husband.
“We sleep down here. We’re getting sick. We’re vomiting. We’re not feeling well. My husband’s not going to work. He’s cleaning. I have two small kids. I work too,” she said.
One man told the meeting he found asbestos when he ripped up his flooring and was concerned because he had giant fans blowing and a child in the house.
Infrastructure is poor
There was a great deal of concern expressed at the meeting that basements will continue to flood because new housing developments in the area are overwhelming the antiquated sewer and stormwater system.
Concern was also raised that these same developments are eliminating green space, which would normally absorb stormwater.
This was particularly an issue for residents of Chine Drive who said they had mostly stormwater (not sewage) and were worried it was coming from the development north of St. Clair between Midland and Brimley, which is tied into the Chine sewer system.
One woman who’s lived in the area since 1977 said every single time it rains there is a flood on St. Clair Avenue and now they’re terrified because another new development is being built on the other side of Brimley.
Kevin Griffin, whose house on Rhydwen Avenue flooded on Sunday reminded the meeting that the sewer system was built at a time when much of the northern part of Scarborough was farmland:
“It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon (he said the mixed metaphor was intentional) to look at the infrastructure implemented in 1941 that was meant to serve into the 50’s 60 and maybe into the 70’s….and expect that that infrastructure can absorb all that additional sewage on the one hand and the rainwater that has nowhere to go.”
Gary Crawford said he is putting pressure on the city to develop the proper infrastructure in Ward 36:
“What we want to do, and I’ve made it clear to the mayor and senior staff that wherever this area is on the list, this area needs to be bumped up as high as it can.”
Filing a claim against the city of Toronto
There is a process by which people can file a claim against the city of Toronto, although that’s usually something that’s handled by insurance companies.
In order to make a claim, however, you need to prove that the city was negligent, which upset many homeowners.
“The onus is on the individual to prove the negligence of the city. I am not an engineer, I am not competent to prove negligence. I’m sorry, I don’t have an entire building full of lawyers to help me do this, ” said Kevin Griffin.
Councillor De Baeremaeker tried to offer reassurance:
If the city is at fault, we’re not going to dispute anybody’s claim. That’s the good news. if we were negligent and we did something wrong, we don’t contest things. We are the government and we will accept responsibility.
News you can use
Councillor Crawford said it’s very important to get the right message out to people so there isn’t confusion and, along with Councillor De Baeremaeker, he provided the following information:
- Make sure you have called 311 to report that your basement was flooded. You need to get a tracking number. If you’ve called already and did not get a tracking number, call again.
- Take photographs of your basement as well as photos of everything you are throwing out in order to back up your insurance claim or claim against the city. If city workers or private contractors come to your house, get their names and contact information and make a note of what time they came and left.
- In the next two weeks, Toronto Water will be inspecting every street to look for blockages and ensure we are ready for another storm.
- There will be another special garbage pick-up day . You can put as much garbage as you need to out on the street on your next regular garbage day and it doesn’t need to be tagged.
- Arrangements have been made with parking authorities to ensure tickets are not issued to people whose driveways are blocked with garbage or bins. If you do get a ticket, call your city councillor.
- The City of Toronto has a program to subsidize the cost of installing backflow valves to the tune of $1,200, which is about 75% of the cost.
The organizers of the meeting are interested in creating a residents’ committee to find out exactly why this happened in southwest Scarborough, discuss the possibility of petitioning the city to pay deductibles and discuss filing a class action law suit. A committee was not struck, however, because the entire evening was taken up with questions and answers.
They have created a Facebook group in order to disseminate flooding information and everyone was encouraged to join. It’s called Flood July 15, 2012. It was suggested that distributing a flyer was also a good idea because not everyone uses Facebook, particularly seniors.