St. Stephen homeowner frustrated with sewage runoff to her yard

Milltown – What would you do if your neighbor was allowing raw sewage to leak into your yard, causing your family health issues? This is exactly the scenario happening to one Milltown resident, and she is at her wits’ end trying to find a solution to the problem.

Jodi Smith, a mother of five, and her husband Matt have been dealing with this issue for approximately six years, and so far, they haven’t been able to stop it.

Smith has a neighbour who is a snowbird, living in Florida during the winter months. He returns to Milltown every spring, and as soon as he returns, Smith’s yard starts to fill with raw sewage she figures is being drained out of the fifth-wheel trailer he spends his summers living in.

“We have lived here almost six years,” said Smith. “The first year was great. Then, summer came along. My neighbour, he is a snowbird. The last part of November early part of December he goes to Florida, and he comes back typically around Victoria Day weekend in May. He came back, and we noticed water in our yard, and we couldn’t figure it out.”

Between the months of May and November, if Smith allows her children to play outside, they inevitably end up with impetigo. Impetigo is a bacterial skin infection most likely to occur in environments that are warm and humid.

Other health issues caused by raw sewage include strep throat, scarlet fever, cellulitis, and even more serious health problems, such as salmonella, skin infections, pneumonia, and blood infections. Her five children, the youngest of which will be two this fall, have ended up with impetigo several times, and Smith believes it is being caused by the sewage seeping into the ground. Now, she can’t allow them to play in their own back yard.

“The kids were in the back yard playing and they kept getting impetigo. We couldn’t figure it out. He left, and the kids played in the yard during the winter and the spring, and they were fine. Then, in the summer, he came back, and we finally pieced it together because we got another case of impetigo.”

Smith said during the months when her neighbour is back in the area, he lives on his property in a fifth-wheel camper trailer. He owns a duplex, which he rents out to tenants, and there is also an industrial garage on the property, which Smith said goes against municipal bylaws.

She hasn’t seen how things are set-up in the garage, but believes her neighbour is running a hose from the fifth-wheel into the garage, where there is likely a drainage system of some sort. But, she thinks he is draining too much, and the excess is seeping into her back yard. Smith has made several calls to various local municipal and provincial officials, but no one seems to be able to do much to help.

“No one is doing anything,” said Smith. “I have contacted the bylaw office. I’ve contacted public health. I’ve contacted the environmental department. I’ve spoken to Jason Carr. I’ve spoken to Allan MacEachern. I’ve had the RCMP up here. I’ve spoken to the town building inspector. I’ve talked to the plumbing inspector. I’ve talked to John Ames. I’ve talked to Greg Thompson. I’ve talked to everybody.

“Everybody is sympathetic, and is, ‘oh, that’s wrong and that’s disgusting’, but nobody will do anything and nobody will help me. I have five children, ranging from the age of 12 to two. One of them is autistic. Health concerns and mental disabilities aside, my children can’t play in the back yard.”

Before anyone can go into the yard, they must don a pair of rubber boots in order to not come into physical contact with the sewage runoff. The ground is grey, which is an indication that there is raw sewage on the property. There are few places you can step where you are not ankle-deep in water.

“I have more water in my back yard than there is in Dennis Stream right now. My husband decided to stick a shovel in the ground and lift it up to see how much water was actually there. The ground is grey. Sewage turns the ground grey.”

A few years ago, the Town of St. Stephen redid the pipes in Elm Street Park, and Smith thinks this is when her neighbour also dug into the existing artesian well. She said there is a sewer water line on her property that runs back to the railroad tracks. Prior to the work that had been done, there would be some water in her yard, but nothing like what she and her family are experiencing now.

“There’s a sewer water line on my property that runs to the railroad tracks, so the town has the right of way,” said Smith. “A couple of years ago, I’m going to say three years ago, the town redid all the pipes up here in Elm Park. When this happened, he redid what he had here, which made the situation worse than what it already was.

Prior to that, it would be wet, but it wouldn’t be sopping. Now, it is sopping wet. I’ve called the town every year to have them come and check their lines to make sure it’s not the town line that’s causing my property to be sopping wet.”

St. Stephen Mayor Allan MacEachern said he is aware of the situation, and he has made the town aware of the situation. He said he is in the process of trying to find out what can be done about this problem, but he cannot make any additional comments at this time.

“There is a file on that,” said MacEachern. “I’m working on it, trying to get the wheels in motion on what the issue is, so I can’t comment at this time until I get that stuff lined up. There’s a lot going on there. I’ve made the town aware of what’s going on up there. I’ve shown them pictures. Staff know about it.”

Smith is concerned there is more than just sewage draining into her yard. She said her neighbor has dump trucks in the yard for his commercial business, and it looks as though oil and gasoline are also seeping onto her property. There is a shiny film on top of the water, which is a pretty good indication that she is correct in her assumption.

In the spring when schools closed early due to COVID-19, Smith’s family planted a small vegetable garden in the yard as part of their home education. There are some small bushes between the main part of the yard and the garden, and Smith thought that would be enough of a break to stop the sewage from seeping into the garden.

Unfortunately, she was wrong, and the will not be able to eat anything they have planted. There are also issues when it comes to having the lawn mowed.

“The vegetables that we have grown for our family are now going to go to waste,” said Smith. “This was part of the kids’ education when school let out. We’re not destroying it because we want them to see, even though that they can’t enjoy, the fruits of their labour.

“I don’t really know what else to tell you. This is my backyard, and this is my swamp. Josh Brown comes and mows my yard, and this section, he cannot use his ride-on mower. He has to use a whipper snipper.”

The fact that her children can’t play in the yard isn’t the only issue Smith has with this sewage problem. Her family has outgrown the home, and she would like to put it on the market next spring. But, because of the sewage situation, she said her property value has been lowered. This is an issue she will have to inform the realtor and potential buyers about.

“This is my swamp. Here’s the water, and there’s more water in my back yard than there is anywhere else. This is my back yard. This is affecting my property value. I want to sell my home in the spring. I have five children, and this is a three-bedroom home.

“We have outgrown this home. This is going to affect my property taxes, and I need to tell the realtor about this. So, my property value has diminished.”

Smith said going to the media with her issue was the only other option available to her at this time, and it was something she didn’t really want to have to do. She said she didn’t particularly want everyone to know what is going on, but she is tired of having to deal with this every spring and summer.

“There’s just no other option,” said Smith. “The smell is revolting. I’m tired of being a nut bar during the summer because I’m so worried about what he’s going to do. What he’s putting in my back yard is hurting my family. Anyone with eyes can see an oily, slick film, so it is what it is. I just don’t know what else to do.”

sarigreen@stcroixcourier.ca