A couple are suing the city of Fife over a sewage spill earlier this year that they say damaged their property and forced them out of their home.
Gary and Nancy Nalder own the home at 1904 58th Ave. E., near Fife High School. They say they haven’t lived there for almost six months because of the incident, despite spending more than $120,000 in an unsuccessful attempt to make it habitable again.
In the lawsuit filed May 29 in Pierce County Superior Court, the homeowners say their property was “suddenly and unexpectedly filled with contaminated wastewater” on Jan. 12.
The Nalders later learned the sewage system operated by Fife had a lift pump failure that resulted in sewage and effluent being discharged on 11,000 square feet of the property, according to the complaint. The city says it was caused by work done by a contractor for a city sewer project.
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The sewage saturated the soil and flowed under the residence, according to the complaint, 18 inches deep in some areas.
The homeowners want the city to reimburse them for their losses, which they say include more than $120,000 for an attempted cleanup and a yet-to-be-determined amount for pain and suffering and lost use of the property.
The couple’s attorney, John Spencer, said it’s unclear if the property is safe to live in. Due to the “fragile” health of one of the clients, they’re being cautious about returning to the home.
Fife City Attorney Loren Combs told The News Tribune that the contractor on the sewer project, Award Construction Inc., is responsible for damages. The city is looking into whether the work was performed properly, he added.
Combs said the city was pleased to learn this week that the contractor’s insurance company has taken responsibility.
“The city did everything right,” he said Thursday.
Spencer disagreed, telling The News Tribune that the contractor was acting as an agent for Fife when the Nalders’ property was damaged, making the city liable.
At the time of the incident, the city sent a cleanup crew to the property. But the workers left about 8 to 10 inches of raw sewage in the crawlspace under the house and a “substantial portion” of the larger affected area was still contaminated, the complaint states.
The employees informed the homeowners that a lengthy bidding process would be required to hire a contractor for the remainder of the cleanup, so the Nalders hired SoundEarth Strategies to handle it in the meantime. SoundEarth then hired consulting firm ECI Environmental Consulting to manage the effort and take soil samples.
Spencer said the Nalders couldn’t wait for a long bidding process before beginning cleanup.
The complaint lists these concerns:
• Rainfall brought about the smell of raw sewage. The well on the land was flooded, and the homeowners were told it may have been contaminated.
• Building materials were lost, a shed had to be torn down, personal items were damaged beyond repair, and the couple inhaled contaminated vapor and possibly ingested sewage.
• Gary Nalder previously suffered from a “compromised immune system” that was exacerbated by the sewage spill.
The couple alleges they were forced to relocate, causing emotional distress for them and their daughter, who has special needs.
“I don’t understand the logic of the city not taking care of it,” Spencer said Thursday.