Shoal Lake senior making a stink after town refuses to pay for sewer gas damage to his home

When Doug Susinski decided to get his home in Shoal Lake, Man., hooked up to the municipal sewer system, he never imagined the house would become filled with the nauseating stench of a sewer.

But since sewer gas started leaking into his house in Shoal Lake — about 250 kilometres west of Winnipeg — Susinski, 77, says he has flushed thousands of dollars down the drain and is left with mould in his cupboards, brown water damage on his walls, corrosion to his plumbing, and an all-around smelly situation.

It's a situation he says is so bad, he's filed a lawsuit against his municipality.

"I have my own business — if I make a mistake I'll fix it for nothing," said Susinski. He feels the municipality should do the same.

He says he paid about $23,000 to connect his home to the municipal sewer and water lines in April of 2012. Right after the work was done, he noticed a strong smell of sewage.

"Holy smokes, the smell was just unbelievable," he said. He thought it would pass, but days later realized he could still smell it both inside and outside the home.

Susinski says the Municipality of Shoal Lake seemed helpful at first, trying several quick fixes such as installing a secondary trap, cleaning out the lines and installing a fan to suck the gas in the other direction.

When none of those efforts worked, the town disconnected Susinski's house from a low-pressure sewage line and rerouted it to a gravity flow line that leads directly to the treatment plant. That was two years after the original installation.

Susinski said that fixed the problem of sewer gas entering the house, but the damage to his home from two years of leakage had been done. The walls and cupboards have suffered water damage from the moisture and the smell has seeped into his fabrics and plastics.

He said for a while he was changing his sheets every couple days just to get the sewer smell out of them, and he can no longer use plastic food containers to store leftovers.

"The food smells — it's got a terrible smell to it and a taste to it. So you cook from day to day and whatever you don't eat you throw it out," he said.

RM voted not to pay for home restoration

The municipality sent a restoration company to Susinski's house to assess the damage and provide a quote back in 2013.

But according to the municipality's meeting minutes from Oct. 22, 2013, a tied vote (with one abstention) meant the RM decided not to pay for restoration of Susinski's home — a decision his neighbour thinks doesn't pass the smell test.

"I can't understand it — council is supposed to look after you when they get voted in, and they're against you," said Leonard Rupa, who lives next door to Susinski.

Rupa, 74, hooked his house up to the municipality sewer at the same time, and he said his home has suffered similar damage ever since the installation. Rupa said he regrets voting for the councillors.

"You vote, and then you get a knife in the back," Rupa said. "To me, they should all resign."

Susinski says he feels betrayed by his town, after many years of community involvement with leading boy scouts, coaching hockey, and being a board member with several community projects like the golf course and hockey rink.

"I've done a lot for this town. I'm pretty proud of it and getting treated this way makes me feel pretty bad."

He says his house is in such disrepair that his friends won't stay long for visits, and the councillors he once knew don't talk to him when they see him on the street.

"It's as if I never did anything for this town," he said. "It was like I never existed."

The RM's meeting minutes state that while the municipality's insurance company determined that the council is not liable for any damages, it would vote on hiring a restoration company to clean the home as a "goodwill gesture."

The motion was defeated.

The council told CBC they could not speak about the decisions behind the vote, as the matter is now before the courts.

Lawsuit filed

Susinski and Rupa filed a lawsuit in 2014 against the Municipality of Shoal Lake (which is now the Rural Municipality of Yellowhead), as well as the consulting firm and the construction company involved, to try to recoup some of their losses and finally get their houses restored.

"I'm supposed to be thinking about retirement [but] I'm going to have to work till the day they bury me," said Susinski, estimating the ordeal has cost him more than $30,000 so far.

The rural municipality denies responsibility for the damage to the home, and has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

The RM declined an interview request because the matter is before the courts. The Manitoba Water Services Board, which helped pay for the project, also declined comment.

According to the statement of defence filed in 2014, the municipality's position is that if the plaintiffs are experiencing problems as described, then the problems are a result of the plaintiff's own negligence, the negligence of the construction and consulting companies, and because of the failure of the Manitoba Water Services Board to ensure that the system was properly designed and built.

Members of the municipal council have discussed the issue of sewer line problems in a more recent council meeting.

According to meeting minutes dated April 28, 2016, a motion was carried to request that the Association of Manitoba Municipalities lobby the province to no longer allow low-pressure lines to be connected to gravity flow sewer lines, noting that there have been several examples of sewer gas odour resulting from the connection of the two types of lines.

The minutes also note that "the cost to replace these lines and repair damages from the sewer gas odour places a financial burden on the municipality."