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Repeated sewage backups leave Conant residents seeking answers

Breakdown in communication between city and region leaves residents furious

A series of homes along Conant Street in Oshawa have been hit with a series of sewage backups in their basements. The issue has left them searching for answers as the City of Oshawa and Region of Durham try to find a solution. (Photo courtesy of Szilvia Tarkanyi)

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

Basements flooded with sewage water, personal belongings destroyed and thousands of dollars in damages have become a familiar sight for residents of Conant Street in Oshawa.

The small side street, which begins at Simcoe Street South and runs east before turning into Nelson Street, has been plagued by sanitary sewer backups over the past two months, and many residents have been left in the dark as to how the Region of Durham, responsible for the sanitary sewer system, is going to handle or reimburse them for the damage.

The problems began on June 23, when after significant rainfall, numerous residents suffered sewage backups. It was the first of several incidents, with subsequent backups occurring on July 31, Aug. 7 and Aug. 26.

Szilvia Tarkanyi is the one the residents who suffered extensive damage, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time, as the long-time Oshawa resident was in the midst of selling her home.

She has owned her home on Conant Street since 1994 and says she had never experienced any sewer issues prior to this summer.

“The first time, I was still living in the house,” says Tarkanyi, who has recently moved to Courtice. “There was damage in all the rooms.”

Backups damaged her home on three separate occasions, with the Aug. 26 incident being the worst.

“The water just coming and coming,” she says. “All the power outlets were covered in water.”

While the damage was covered under her insurance, it caused a buyer to back out of a potential deal to buy the home because it is no longer in the condition they had viewed it in.

The issue has left Tarkanyi with two mortgages and only one income.

For now, she says she will keep her Conant Street property listed, but realistically, she believes significant renovations will be needed before it will be sellable.

“I have to refinish the basement completely. I’ll have to put in new stairs, flooring and walls,” she explained, adding appliances like her washing machine, dryer and hot water tank will also need to be replaced.

Tarkanyi says she is hoping to start repairs next week and has three months to sell the house.

The debacle has led Tarkanyi to consider potential legal action against the region, but has not made any decisions yet.

“I’ll have to sell the house first to see what I’ve lost,” she says.

On top of everything, Tarkanyi is a recent widow, having lost her husband earlier this year, and says she is dealing with the situation alone.

“I can’t enjoy my new house. I still have boxes all over the place,” she says.

She criticized Durham Region, and in turn, the City of Oshawa, for how the situation has been handled.

“I kept telling them something was wrong. They didn’t believe me,” she says, noting that, there was no appropriate municipal action until she spoke about her issues with the media.

“Why did we have to go to the public to get the job done? If they had done it in June or July, we wouldn’t have to go through this.”

Eric Lamain, assistant superindenent at the region’s Oshawa and Whitby depot, says they are still looking into the situation.

According to Lamain, there are likely several factors for the backups, including a build-up of calcite in the sanitary sewer pipes and issues with private plumbing weeping tiles in the area.

“We are investigating. We are at looking at the sanitary sewer and also the sources of the sewage,” Lamain stated, adding that the region is also looking at “the surrounding areas and usage in the area, as well as the conditions of the watermains.”

What was unique about the Aug. 26 incident, Lamain explains, was the lack of significant rainfall before the flooding. This points to a potentially larger issue.

“That meant there could be a lot to be investigated,” he says.

Lamain was unable to provide a total number of houses that have been affected, but says damage ranged from substantial to none at all.

The Region of Durham has a grant policy that will provide up to $495 to residents to help with clean-up costs related to sanitary sewage damage.

To receive the assistants, residents must notify the region about any damage, after which staff will perform an investigation and determine whether it was indeed caused by a sanitary sewer backup.

“Within that policy, when we confirm a sanitary sewer backup, we can give the [homeowner] the package and they can apply for money,” Lamain says.

Rob Dover, another resident affected by the situation, says “$495 isn’t going to do anybody any good.”

On top of that, Dover says the application is quite confusing.

“The majority of us haven’t sent it in yet, it’s very, very unclear,” he says.

With his insurance coverage for flood damage at only $10,000, Dover says he and his wife will be stuck with an unfinished basement.

He says once they’ve spent the money for a new furnace and hot water tank, “there won’t be a penny left to do anything with the basement.”

Dover also slammed the reaction from the region and city, noting there was a “huge lack of communication.”

“One was blaming it on sewer and one was blaming it on stormwater.”

He is hopeful somebody “steps up” and helps them.

“We are hoping they will do what they said they would do, including [Oshawa] Mayor John Henry, who said  ‘don’t worry, we’ll take care of you’.”

Dover wants either the city or region to “compensate for the loss and [help us] rebuild to what we had before all of this.”

Speaking with The Express last week, Henry explained he was frustrated the city was not notified of the issues until after the July 31 backups and he has met with several of the affected homeowners.

Henry says the number one priority now is to find out why this is happening.

“It’s four times in one community – there isn’t any other places in the region where this has happened.”

The mayor spoke of the need for improved communications between the region and city.

“First of all, if there is an issue with a street, the region should let the municipality know as soon as possible,” he says. “There needs to be a better level of communication. This should be used as an example so this type of situation doesn’t happen again.”

Speaking on potential compensation for Conant Street residents, Henry questioned whether $495 is sufficient assistance.

“We need to find whatever it is that works [in terms of compensation].

One person who Dover says has done a “fabulous” job representing the residents of Conant Street is regional and Oshawa city councillor Amy McQuaid-England, who tells The Oshawa Express she is unsatisfied with how the region and the city have handled the situation thus far.

“The region and city don’t have a good communication plan went it comes to a situation like this. They’re not really sharing information,” she says. “The region is saying it’s not their fault, the city is saying it’s not their fault. There’s a total communication breakdown.”

McQuaid-England has called for a full audit of the situation going back at to the first incident on June 23.

“In this situation, the residents need to know that they will be supported, they will be heard and if need be, they will be compensated,” she says.

Lamain acknowledged that perhaps there was a bit of an issue in communication.

“It can be difficult,” he says, but noting the regional and city staff work together quite often.

“The maintenance people are usually in touch. We’ve done quite a few investigations together.”

However, for Lamain, there is always room for improvement and “how we get information out is something we are looking at as well.”


with files from Joel Wittnebel