Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Broken city pipe ruined his shop; city just shrugs

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The city wasn't responsible for the seven feet of water that poured into the basement of Andy Chan's Elmwood hairdressing business. It seems God was.

If you buy the first part of the equation, you have to buy that Chan is not entitled to any compensation for the water-main break that will cost him tens of thousands of dollars and likely ruined his chances of selling his building.

Unless God wants to pony up, of course.

The water started to flow in Tuesday. Chan got on the phone to the city. They sent a crew over and shut off the water. Chan hired a company to drain his basement and thought things were more or less under control.

Then the city turned the water back on.

"It started pouring back in again," Chan said Thursday. "It was coming in through the basement window. I know the city's going to tell me they'll clean it up, but that this was an act of God. It wasn't! It was because the water main broke. It flooded my building and then they flooded it again."

The first time it was water. The second time? It was a mudslide.

Water-main breaks are a fact of life in Winnipeg. There were 328 last year and 432 the year before. That's down considerably from the 1990s. Most of the breaks were minor.

A city spokeswoman said that in 2010 there were 24 claims against the city for basement flooding caused by water-main breaks. There were 65 in 2009.

None of the claimants received compensation.

Part of the problem in this city and others is the age of the pipes. Ironically, the ancient pipes are less likely to break because they're thick cast iron. It's the ones laid in the '40s and '50s that are inclined to spring a leak.

The Watt Street pipe that burst outside Chan's business was laid in 1920. Pipes that burst across the city this week were laid between 1917 and 1952.

Anyone in Chan's situation would be upset, but he has more reasons than most. He just sold the building for $105,000. The new owners were supposed to take possession Saturday. They've asked for a deep discount after the building flooded but may not want the building after all.

"We had dreams to sell the business. We take care of two special-needs people and we wanted to buy a larger home. Now this. Now this is ruined. I don't have the extra resources to fix this."

Chan and his wife didn't have insurance for this kind of damage.

He's had sympathy from the city, but that and four bucks will get him a drink at Starbucks.

Terry Josephson, an engineer with the city's water service, says his employer isn't in the compensation business.

"That isn't something we would do," he said. "We get out there and fix what we need to. Water-main breaks happen. They happen here, they happen everywhere. It's an unfortunate reality."

That's cold comfort to Chan. He spent nearly $1,600 to get the water pumped out. He needs to replace the furnace, electrical panel, wiring, hot-water tank and air-exchange system.

The Chans bought the building in 2007. They spent $30,000 on renovations to bring it up to code.

On Thursday, Sam Katz faced the cameras and said he'd consider changing city legislation to aid owners of properties damaged by overland flooding from water-main breaks. Exceptional circumstances would have to be present.

He offered his compassion to people who end up with a basement full of muck after a water-main break.

Andy Chan doesn't want compassion. He'd like an apology and an explanation. He'd like a cheque. He thinks it's pretty exceptional that his future could be altered by an aged water main.

You can't convince him this was an act of God. You can't convince most taxpayers.

lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 4, 2011 B1

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About Lindor Reynolds

National Newspaper Award winner Lindor Reynolds began work at the Free Press as a 17-year-old proofreader. It was a rough introduction to the news business.

Many years later, armed with a university education and a portfolio of published work, she was hired as a Free Press columnist. During her 20-plus years on the job she has written for every section in the paper, with the exception of Business. She’ll get around to them some day.

Lindor has received considerable recognition for her writing. Her awards include the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ general interest award and the North American Travel Journalists Association top prize.
Her work on Internet luring led to an amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada and her coverage of the child welfare system prompted a change to Manitoba Child and Family Services Act to make the safety of children paramount.

She has earned three citations of merit for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism and has been awarded a Distinguished Alumni commendation from the University of Winnipeg. Lindor was also named a YMCA/YWCA  Woman of Distinction.

She is married with four daughters. If her house was on fire and the kids and dog were safe, she’d grab her passport.
 
lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

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