As the construction to move sewer lines on Rippon Avenue, which began mid-March, progresses, the once tree-lined street is lined with 40 trunks and dusted with wood shavings.
Local resident Stephanie Murray said she can’t put a swing set up for her boys because the frequent flooding may cause it to rot. In the summer, they can’t play in their backyard too long either, because the standing water breeds mosquitoes.
The creek that crosses Rippon Avenue flows right by a sewer main. Whenever there’s heavy rainfall, the sewer backs up and the creek goes into the sewer laterals and backs up residents’ basements, either with just water, or in more drastic circumstances, sewage.
The $1.8 million grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation will fund, in part, two changes to Rippon Avenue: First, the sewer lines will move to the front of the home, eliminating back ups, and second, a new concrete culvert over the creek will be installed. At the intersection of Garden, Vine, and Mead streets, houses will get connected to the sewer main so that those homes don’t accidentally flush their sewage into the St. Joe River.
For the water and sewer replacement, the Board of Public Utilities has budgeted $100,000.
The project on Rippon Avenue involves laying water and sewer mains underneath the river. To do that, water will have to be pumped around the road. Finally, a new concrete culvert, 40 feet long, four feet tall, and eight feet wide, Director of Public Services Jake Hammel said.
In the meantime, Murray has two sub pumps, which have kept water out of her basement all but two times. She said this year was the worst for the basement of her Rippon Avenue house that she’s lived in for five years with her husband and boys, ages four and one.
“The creek has nowhere to go,” she said.
Murray said the construction group will start digging up the driveway in preparation for replacing the sewer lines. Describing her backyard like a lake, she said she’s ready not to have it flood.
“I’d like to have a swingset for my oldest son,” she said.
Her basement floods with water, but in the yard? “I don’t dare check,” she said.
Across the street, however, sewage flooded the basement of Nan Hoberg, the manager of alumni events and records for Hillsdale College. Hoberg, who’s lived on Rippon Avenue for three years now, said it was because tree roots grew into the pipes connecting her house to the sewer under the road.
“I thought, ‘It won’t happen to me,’ but it did,” she said.
The incident required three days of clean up: a serviceman cleared out the clogged pipe and a cleanup crew vacuumed up the sewage, dried, deodorized, and disinfected the basement. Since then, she has the drain service come annually to clean out the pipe to avoid another sewage flood, a task she considers part of regular house maintenance now.
While it cost a few hundred dollars, she estimated, she said the city covered some of it once she realized the root of the problem.
“They were very good, very accommodating,” she said.
Across the street, John Gessner’s dog became ill after a storm sewer backed up on his property. He filed a lawsuit in 2016 for damages, and the city settled for paying $245.94, half of the $491.87 he paid in veterinarian bills, the Hillsdale Daily News reported.
“I was so disappointed, I had two beautiful trees,” she said. “If the trees caused all the damage, they can’t be here. But the whole street will be better…and the trees will grow back.”