Erupting sewer main leaves SK woman temporarily homeless

Kimberley Bullivant never gave much thought to living next to a sewage pump station.

After all, the pump was safely hidden underground — under her driveway on Westminster Street in East Port Orchard, to be specific — and the only time she knew it was there was when she could hear the faint swoosh of water traveling through the pipes.

Bullivant wasn’t thrilled when, soon after she moved in last April, Karcher Creek Sewer District crews appeared to rip out the old pump and install a new one. But she figured construction would be a temporary hassle and, when it was finished, she wouldn’t have manholes in her driveway anymore.

Bullivant’s thoughts on the pump station changed dramatically, however, when she woke up Tuesday morning to find four inches of raw, untreated sewage covering the floor of her garage and basement-level family room.

“It was so disgusting,” she said.

Every pump station is fitted with an alarm and automatic dial-up connection to notify the sewer district should the holding tanks start to overflow. There was no alarm Monday night, though. Apparently, said sewer officials, the high-pressure pipe leading out of the pump station had burst apart, forcing sewage out of the manholes and into Bullivant’s home.

The holding tanks, which serve 90 homes in Bullivant’s neighborhood, were completely empty.

“It was actually shooting up through the holes in the manhole cover,” said sewer district spokesman Darren Podraza.

The irony, of course, is that the district had been in the process of replacing the whole pump station when the accident occurred. Karcher Creek has been trying to update its older components, some of which date back to World War II.

Crownwood pump station — the one by Bullivant’s house — was built in 1977 and well due for a replacement.

Not only is the station obsolete — replacement parts are hard or impossible to find — but the pump’s reliability had been getting steadily worse. Bullivant said her brother-in-law, who owns the house and used to live there, was often awakened in the middle of the night by the overflow alarm going off.

“It’s really frustrating when you’re replacing something to avoid problems and something like this happens,” Podraza said. “But I’ve never had a forcemain pipe come apart like this — shoot stuff out the lid.”

Bullivant, however, believes its far more frustrating to be forced out of her home by a tide of sewage. She believes the sewer district should have tackled the Crownwood problem a long time ago, or at least worked faster to get the replacement system in. Meanwhile, Bullivant is trying to cope with the aftermath of the spill.

Although most of the home’s living areas are upstairs — only her son slept in the basement — the smell was too much to take. Bullivant said it wasn’t as bad as she expected raw sewage would smell, but compared the odor to a fish tank in need of cleaning. In addition, between the fences around the whole pump station area and the various construction and pump trucks now needed to minister to the site, it’s nearly impossible for Bullivant to even get to her front door.

She’s gone back to the house nearly every day this week to inventory the things that will need replacing and monitor the cleanup work, but said she plans to stay in a motel at least until the smell subsides.

“It’s just been a real inconvenience,” Bullivant said.

A sewage spill that falls on open land usually requires some type of safety precautions and clean-up period, especially if the spill happens near a stream. When sewage runs into someone’s house, however, the cleanup is much more complicated and difficult.

All of Bullivant’s downstairs carpeting had to be ripped out, as well as much of the wall board within a foot of the floor. Nearly every piece of furniture that was downstairs will have to be disposed of, including a studded bar, an indoor hot tub and all the bookshelves, desks and other items stored in the basement or garage.

“Anything that has the slightest amount of contamination has to go because they can’t clean it,” Bullivant said.

No damage estimates are yet available — Bullivant was still adding up her losses on Thursday.

District general manager Dick Fitzwater said most of the district’s pump stations are in developed areas, usually around the houses they serve. However, Crownwood may have been the only one actually under someone’s driveway.

Fitzwater said inadequate land use controls are to blame. When the developer built most of the homes in Bullivant’s neighborhood sometime in the late 1970s or early ’80s, apparently no one thought it was a problem to build directly over a sewer station. As a result, Crownwood has been a magnet for difficulties. Fitzwater said a truck even rammed into the above-ground electrical panels at one point.

“Why the hell they ever let (the developer) get away with a design like that — but things were like that back then,” he said.

Fitzwater said the district’s insurance will be covering all the damage caused by the spill. Now that the new holding tanks are in, Podraza said the construction site should be cleaning up relatively quickly, too. District officials estimate Bullivant’s property should be back to normal within the next three months.

No one from the district believed there was any way anyone could have seen this accident coming.

“It was really a freak circumstance,” Podraza said.

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