Will a new development destroy cellars?

by Vanda Schmöckel

Wanda Silzer

Wanda Silzer wasn’t feeling optimistic following the Aug. 26 City Council meeting. Council had just given final approval to a 90-unit residential development in her west Cathedral neighbourhood, despite the fact that it will be sitting on a soon-to-be former flood plain, and with the knowledge that there are longstanding drainage issues in the surrounding area.

Silzer and her neighbours have been dealing with waste and storm sewer back-up in their basements for years.

“There’s going to be lots of people’s poo in our basement,” Silzer said. “It’s just never going to end.”

If Silzer sounds frustrated, she has very good reason. For the past few years, she says she’s seen an escalation of the kind of trouble this area has experienced for more than two decades — namely sewer and storm water backing up into basements around the 2200 block of Edward and Pasqua Streets. Silzer says she can no longer get insurance on her basement, and has had to have it reconstructed twice due to sewer back-ups, making claims in 2010 and 2011.

“I’ve redone all the sewer to the city — in my house, outside my house,” she says, “and I still flooded twice.”

Some residents have gone so far as to install industrial valves to cut off the flow of water backing up from the street. Marlo Gebhardt, another area resident, describes rushing home during rain storms to turn off back valves, and not being able to run water, do laundry, or flush her toilet for hours on end.

“And also, there’s a very strong smell,” Gebhardt says.

“I’ve had to send everyone out of my house, even pets,” Silzer adds. “Because it burns your eyes, the sewer gas is so strong.”

The City has long been aware of the situation. It’s been an issue since at least 1988 when it committed to addressing the problem in the Cathedral Area Neighbourhood Plan. Currently, the city is commissioning a report on the local drainage and sewage situation from the department of public works. The report is expected to be filed by the end of this year, and presented in February before the city devises a strategy for fixing the existing drainage issues around the area.

In the meantime, the new 90-unit townhouse development slated to go up at 2220 Edward St. is causing concerns for some neighbouring residents around how the new development’s drainage and sewer water might make their situation worse.

“They’ve basically allowed the development to go ahead,” Silzer said. “They’ll fix our sewer — we don’t know how well, or when — but this development’s ground level is going to be 10 feet higher than our ground level. No one has stated how gravity and hydraulic pressure is going to affect us with ground water or sewer water. And it’s on a flood plain. Plain and simple, it just shouldn’t be there.”

The city is expected to rezone the area for residential use in the coming weeks.

“The concerned residents who think the new development will somehow exacerbate or worsen their problems — the engineers’ work that was done shows absolutely conclusively that those are separate issues,” says Mayor Michael Fougere.

Given the longstanding problems, though, some local residents question whether it might not makes sense to address the existing issues before allowing any future development in the area.

“Well, that’s not the view of council,” Fougere says. “The problems that are affecting the existing neighbourhood, they’re serious, and we need to fix them, [but they] are not going to be impacted by the new development. So we can do them in tandem. It is not reasonable to delay development when it has no impact on the water or sewage in the area.”

So what’s taken so long to address the area’s complaints?

“I can’t answer that with total clarity other than to say that it probably should have been done,” Fougere said. “The longer you go, the more serious it is, but I would say that the fact that we’re doing it now shows that council is serious [about solving] the problem.”

But it begs the question, if 2220 Edward St will be built on what has heretofore always been a flood plain, and a good portion of that flood plain is taken away to make space for a residential development, where will all that water go?

According to Geoff Brown, manager of the infrastructure branch for the City of Regina, much of the job of keeping errant storm and waste water away from the existing neighbourhood will be in the hands of the developer itself. He says the developer has proposed a number of measures to avoid affecting the surrounding area, such as including a lift station, and offline storage of waste and storm runoff on site.

Brown says this would essentially hold the material until there is, ostensibly, capacity available downstream on the main sewage trunk.

“The [2220 Edward St] sewer ultimately does discharge to the trunk, however it’s going to bypass all the existing residences there,” Brown says.

As for storm water, Brown says it will be directed away from the development under Lewvan Drive, into the west Lewvan ditch, and eventually empty into Wascana Creek.

However things progress, the endless drainage issues — and the long wait to finally have them addressed by the city — have left a very bad taste in the mouths of local residents. And their patience is wearing thin.

“We have all the grounds for a class action lawsuit,” Silzer says. “If this build goes ahead and they don’t fix anything and we have issues, it’s definitely going to be a legal issue for the city.”