City Faces Storm of Flooding-Related Lawsuits
Illinois Attorney General alleges nearly 50 sewer overflow incidents since 2006.
During a humid summer filled with several severe thunderstorms, the city now faces a different kind of heat related to flooding from big storms in 2010 and sewer issues dating back five years.
Three lawsuits have been filed in the last six weeks accusing the city of, among other things, negligence in the way it operates its sanitary sewer system and then failing to properly report overflows to the state. Two of the cases stem from the flooded homes of residents, while the third, and most recent, originates from state officials demanding change.
On July 19, the Illinois Attorney General filed for an injunction against the city seeking to force Elmhurst to remedy problems in the sewer system, to stop allowing untreated sewage to be released into Salt Creek, to make timely reports of sewer overflows and follow all Illinois Environmental Protection Agency standards.
The attorney general also wants significant fines against Elmhurst. A spokesman said Tuesday that interim measures are being sought on behalf of city residents while the case winds its way through the court system. A November hearing is scheduled.
On Tuesday, the city issued a statement explaining it "is committed to addressing flooding issues in the City of Elmhurst, including overflows from its sanitary and storm water systems, and is working with the Illinois Attorney General and IEPA on a comprehensive plan to improve overall operations of those systems."
The city is also fending off lawsuits on behalf of residents who suffered flooding during 2010 summer storms.
In June, Alexander Arezina sued the city over damage he received when sewer systems overflowed after rains on June 23, 2010, and on July 23-24, 2010. Arezina's suit has been filed as a class action with the aim to include any resident who had flood damage as a result of those storms.
"The flooding was caused by the city's negligent failure to properly operate and maintain its storm and sanitary systems," Arezina's lawsuit states, adding that residents experienced millions of dollars in flooding damage and now pay higher insurance premiums because of it.
Residents "suffered significant losses when the city's storm and sanitary sewer system overflowed causing storm water and/or raw sewage to back up into their homes and property," the suit claims.
Arezina told Patch in June that the area where he lives, near East End Park, regularly has sewer overflows.
On Monday, City Attorney Don Storino described the Arezina case as being in the "very preliminary" stages. The city has yet to file a formal response to Arezina's allegations. The case is scheduled for a Sept. 19 hearing.
Storino also said Monday he was unaware of a lawsuit filed on July 22 by State Farm Insurance against the city and park district over flooding at a Larch Avenue home last year caused, according to the suit, after two "large piles of woodchips" were dumped next to a city sewer grate on July 23, 2010.
"A rain storm ensued and (Michael and Beth) Concannon's residence was flooded with water from a backed up city sewer," the suit claims.
State Farm is seeking to recoup a little more than $50,000 paid out by the insurance company to the Concannons to cover the damage and their deductible.
Jim Rogers, deputy director of parks and recreation, said park district officials were not aware of the lawsuit. The case is scheduled for an October status hearing.
While the State Farm lawsuit is tied to a specific act of alleged negligence by the park district, all three cases target the city's failure to maintain the sewer system.
The attorney general alleges that since January 2006 Elmhurst's sewer system has experienced blockages from tree roots and grease, as well as "infiltration" from heavy rainfall that "caused overflows of untreated wastewater from manholes to an unnamed tributary to Salt Creek, discharges of untreated wastewater into basements of homes of local residents, and also caused a lift station failure," documents show.
Specifically, the attorney general cites nearly 50 instances—the latest occurring on July 4—of a sewer overflow—an "SSO"—that either flooded basements or put untreated water into Salt Creek.
Additionally, Elmhurst failed to report any overflows between June 26, 2009, and Dec. 1, 2010 to the state within the required 24-hour period, the attorney general alleges.
An IEPA violation sent to Elmhurst earlier this year noted "numerous SSO" had occurred in 2009 and 2010, but Elmhurst had failed to report these SSOs," court records show.
Patch Correspondent David Matthews contributed to this report.