An Oak Bay homeowner who is also a retired lawyer believes the bylaw that will cost him $16,494 to repair a broken line from his house connecting to the sewer main under the street is unfair.
Sheldon Seigel, who has lived on Plymouth Road near Mount Tolmie for 28 years, discovered the sewer damage on Feb. 29 when sewage backed up in the toilet and drains in the house.
He called a local plumber who used a camera to confirm a crack in the lateral sewer pipe beyond the edge of Seigel’s property where it connects to the sewer main line under the pavement.
Thinking the bylaw is the same in Oak Bay as it is in Victoria, Saanich and most municipalities in Greater Victoria, the plumber told Seigel it was the District’s problem.
“‘Lucky you,’ the plumber told me,” Seigel said, or so he thought.
Seigel had to wait until Monday morning when the District of Oak Bay informed him he will be responsible for the cost of replacing the pipes, but that no one can touch them except for an Oak Bay crew.
“I thought, ‘that’s crazy,’ but turns out that it’s true, it’s in the bylaw,” Seigel said. “I was billed $5,500 up front which seemed like a lot.”
As for the work, the crew showed up quickly and were diligent about it, though they did have trouble finding the leaking section, Seigel said.
The connection meant digging a trench all the way across Plymouth to the entrance of the neighbour’s driveway across the street.
His current bill is $16,494, though he’s not sure if that’s the final tally.
“One thing that I didn’t understand is that if Oak Bay tenders a request for proposal for work to be done, it takes the lowest bid. But I’m not allowed to get quotes from multiple plumbers, I have to accept the District at their word.”
Seigel was also disappointed the trench blocked Plymouth Road for three days and kept his neighbours out of their driveway.
“When a member of the crew showed me the asbestos cement pipe he said everyone on my street would need theirs replaced within two seasons,” Seigel said.
Oak Bay Director of Engineering Dan Horan said he can’t speak to individual cases but confirmed the District bylaw, which was updated in 2017. Mayor Kevin Murdoch said the bylaw dates back to a council decision in the 1960s.
“In many municipalities, residents are responsible for sewer laterals to the property line,” Horan said. “But there are some municipalities in B.C. and in Canada that are like Oak Bay, where residents are responsible for the laterals both on public and private property, all the way until the mains.”
The costs for sewer laterals is a fixed price, $5,300, but for some cases it is increased due to the length of the replacement or if multiple services lines are replaced.
For Murdoch, the question boils down to whether Oak Bay should incur the costs of the later connections from the main lines to the edge of a residential property, or if it should remain the responsibility of the property owner.
“One option is to move those costs onto taxes,” Murdoch said. “Is there an appetite for it, that’s up to council, but I don’t think it’s something we’re doing immediately.”
Council and staff are in the final stages of the 2020 draft and are struggling as it is to find $9.2 million per year to fix Oak Bay’s portion of sub-ground infrastructure.
Another option is to pursue density and infill to help minimize the overall costs, Murdoch noted. There’s also the incentive path to encourage homeowners to get the laterals upgraded if the sewer, water and storm mains are being upgraded near their house. That depends on the upgrade being done as trench work though, as much of the cured-in place pipes are installed without a trench.