Life for a Hughson pastor and his wife and that of his church family has been in a state of upheaval since Dec. 7 when a thick concrete like substance began flowing up from their toilet bowls and bathtubs and creeping into bathroom and bedrooms. It’s the stuff nightmares are made of but since the mess caused when a contractor filled an abandoned and crumbling sewer line on Tully Avenue, nobody seems to be taking responsibility for the damage – or willing to pay for it.
Even the church’s insurance carrier has denied a claim to cover damages. The church is considering litigation.
The church’s dilemma resulted from the city of Hughson’s attempt to prevent the problem of sinkholes due to a collapsing abandoned century-old clay sewer line that once serviced the old Hughson Creamery and running under Tully Avenue. The city hired a contractor to backfill the old line with a foamy material which in time hardens like concrete but was unaware that lines were still connected to the Hughson Church of Christ and Hughson Christian School property and parsonage.
When the contractor became aware of the problem, the work crew shut down the process and began to evacuate material from the lines before it hardened – but left a huge mess inside the pastor’s home. The gray goo had also flowed into the street south of the church property.
“My parents have received pretty much the runaround from both the city of Hughson and the cement company,” said Tia Kilgore, who spoke for her parents, Pastor Nathan and Dara House. “Both of them are pretty much saying it’s not their fault. The city of Hughson is saying it’s the cement company’s fault. The cement company is saying it’s the city of Hughson’s fault and so all of the cost for any of the repairs so far has either fallen to my parents or to the church.
“At this point nobody is willing to step up and turn it into their insurance because I guess that would be admitting fault of some kind.”
The church has spent over $70,000 in immediate repairs and the parsonage, she said.
“We don’t have that kind of money,” she said, adding that the church is burning through its reserves intended for other uses, such as an impending replacement of an aging roof.
Initially the city told the Houses to save their receipts and indicated they were willing to cover the expenses “but it’s coming on two months and nothing has moved,” she said.
Now the church is considering litigation, she said.
One church member took to social media to appeal for the public to call and pressure City Hall to help the church.
Hughson City Manager Merry Mayhew issued a written statement on Friday, saying: “The City understands the frustration and empathizes greatly with the situation. City staff has been out to the site multiple times from the beginning of these issues to look at the damage and have met with the pastor and/or his wife several times.
“Portables were provided when the city shut the water off for a short period of time and because the Christian school was in session. After the water was turned back on, the City left the portables on site as it is my understanding that a portion of the church building is still being utilized.
“The City worked directly with the contractor to resolve this issue from the beginning and once the claim was turned over to their insurance company, we have been in contact with the insurance company as well. Unfortunately we are at the mercy of their insurance company and we are not seeing the results that we need to see as far as resolving these issues and getting the residents back into their home and church as swiftly as possible.”
“As the insurance is not moving on these claims, the city is looking at all legal options available to resolve this.”
The Houses are staying in temporary housing while the parsonage undergoes repairs and cleanup. Sheetrock has been removed feet off the floor from where the gray goo touched it. Carpeting was also ruined. The couple’s personal property was also covered in a powdery dust after clean-up operations.
“It’s just been awful to be watching,” said Kilgore.
The mess also disrupted plans to hold a family Christmas gathering at ttheir home of seven years.
The church was affected in a different way. The pressure of forcing the substance into the sewer line caused wastewater to be pushed up into the church restrooms and church building.
“The water had been running into the church building for about two hours so we had pretty significant water flooding into our front classrooms. It had run underneath our baptistery and out into the auditorium so a lot of the money that the church has spent so far was just immediate restoration.”
Because the sheetrock in the walls of the church classrooms soaked up contaminated water, it had to be removed part way up and awaits replacement. Contaminated carpets had to be removed as well.
“We’ve been out of the auditorium since this has happened,” explained Kilgore. “We’re still able to use the bathrooms. We’re not able to use the water service to the building.”
For now the church is using portable toilets outside the building while church is held in the fellowship hall.
Having no water service has affected the church’s ability to be used for funerals and events that were displaced.
“We have events coming up in March that we would normally cook for and we’re now trying to decide if we have the budget to try and cater or do something else,” said Kilgore. “It’s definitely been an impact and will be an impact with no kind of end date in sight.”