City manager Tim Commisso says he's confident the Atlantic Avenue Sewage Treatment Plant performed at or above expecations on May 28.
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The lawyer representing one of two potential multimillion class-action lawsuits being levelled at the city said he can’t believe a $1.4-million fix was all that was needed to prevent flooding at the Atlantic Avenue Sewage Treatment Plant.
Sandy Zaitzaff said it just strengthens his resolve to sue the city on behalf of victims of the May 28 flood disaster, continuing to blame the city for raw sewage backing up into people’s basements in low-lying areas of Thunder Bay.
“I was shocked at the low number that it would have taken to prevent this; $1.4 million and there would have been no flood,” Zaitzaff said. “That is shocking, that is appalling. That’s a simple fix. The city should have had that in place long before this.”
City officials, however, contend otherwise, pointing out the sewage treatment plant operated as it was expected, was designed to handle amounts of water nearly 10 times the daily average and couldn’t have been expected to deal with the amount of rain that fell and besieged the city’s sewer system.
Zaitzaff was also angered to learn the fixes – an emergency bypass system and faster screen cleaners to allow water to flow more freely – have been increasingly implemented in many other communities over the past decade, albeit mostly in new construction.
City manager Tim Commisso said he’s confident with what he heard from the consultants, which included engineer Troy Briggs and weather expert Graham Saunders, that the city wasn’t at fault.
“We have a plant that well exceeded the capacity, as it was described tonight. What we’re dealing with is a weather event that exceeded our expectations. And I’ll say that. Our plant functioned well and did the best it could under the circumstances. It’s just the flows under the amount of water exceeded that,” Commisso said.
He added in hindsight its easy to suggest what should or shouldn't have been done.
"We have done everything that we can and I think what you heard tonight is our plant certainly meets the standards it was designed for and goes beyond that."
According to Saunders, 93.1 millilitres of rain fell, beginning about midnight, on May 28. The rain fell at record rates, and combined with more than 60 millilitres of rain that fell in the five days leading up to the flood, conditions were perfect for excess water to accumulate, as it had nowhere to go.
Briggs said it's important to realize the $1.45-million fix he is proposing would only have protected the plant itself, and would not have prevented water from backing up in the sewer system.
"It wouldn't have necessarily stopped any flooding within the system. The flows that came were just beyond what the plant could even pump. Because we couldn't pump it, it means it had to back up in the system. Even if we could have protected the plant doesn't mean we could have stopped the event itself and catastrophe we had on the residents of the city," Briggs said.
"Again, this was a very complex situation. It's something that we will certainly look at and go forward," Commisso added, when questioned why the bypass wasn't already in place. "It's a commitment we're making and continue to make, putting in place everything we can. This will be another measure."
Zaitzaff said the explanations don't wash.
"The plant had design problems," he maintained. "The plant did not work properly. Their screens clogged. The screens should not clog. The design of the screen themselves and the rakes were improper. They just told us that."
The city is facing a pair of class-action lawsuits over the disaster, each valued at more than $500 million. Neither suit has been certified in court and cannot proceed until such time.
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