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City ordered to cut bill by half for unsuccessful dig to find sewer line break

Owner of rental property filed complaint with public Utilities Board after being charged nearly $11K for the excavation, which was farther from the building than the location of the break.
excavator digging outside house
The City of Thompson was ordered to reduce its bill for an excavation that failed to find a residential sewer line break by 50 per cent in September after a complaint to the Public Utilities Board of Manitoba.

The City of Thompson was ordered last month to reduce the amount it charged for a residential property excavation that failed to locate a sewer line break.

In a Sept. 14 decision on a complaint filed by Volker Beckmann, the Public Utilities Board of Manitoba (PUB) found that the $10,773.38 bill for the dig by city crews should be reduced by half to $5,336.99.

The invoice was for an excavation performed at a Brandon Crescent rental property Beckmann owns, which a plumber advised him had a sewer line collapse about eight or nine feet from the cleanout, a small capped pipe usually located on or near a structure. The city contended, however, that the plumber advised their foreman that the collapse was eight to 10 feet from the front edge of the building.

When city crews dug where they believed the break to be, they did not find one and invoiced Beckmann for the work. The city told the PUB that if they had been advised the break was eight or nine feet from the cleanout, they would not have performed the excavation.

Thompson has a special service levy under which water and sewer lines breaks more than one metre from a residential structure are repaired at no cost to the owner. The costs of all such breaks are paid for by a levy on the following year’s property taxes calculated by equally dividing the cost of all applicable repairs in the previous year among all residential properties.

Breaks one metre or less from the structure are the responsibility of the owner to repair at their own cost.

Beckmann appealed the bill twice to the city but both times their decision to charge him the full amount was upheld.

Two private contractors gave him lower quotes for the work performed, ranging from $4,500 to $5,124. The work was ultimately completed by Smook Contractors at a cost of just under $6,000.

The PUB said both parties bore some responsibility for the dispute, as the city’s waiver that Beckmann had to sign before the excavation began wasn’t clearly worded and because Beckmann signed it without fully understanding what he was agreeing to.

The board recommended that the City of Thompson develop and implement clearer policies, processes and procedures for communication to property owners about work to be completed before it begins, by providing a detailed quote or forecast of the work to be performed, a detailed scope of the work to be performed, a timeline for completion, as well as alternatives and details about liability about the work to be performed.

The PUB found that both the city and Beckmann should have done more to resolve the dispute before Beckmann filed a complaint with the board. Both parties were ordered to pay their own costs and to split the board’s costs of $500 for resolving the impasse.