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Sewage Spill Woes

Sharon and Thomas Beahm, right, and Kassandra Ramirez and Dylan Simon, left, stand in front of their residence at Ponderosa Park Apartments on Tuesday. A broken sewage pipe in the crawlspace directly below the Beahms' apartment led to about 12,000 gallons of raw sewage leaking. The only access to pump out the sewage was through a trap door in the couple's bedroom closet.

After residents of Pondarosa Parkway Apartments lived with the remnants of about 12,000 gallons of sewage underneath their apartments, they are leaving for cleaner pastures.

The residents are citing poor management after their landlord allowed them to stay in their homes for 15 days before city officials declared the space uninhabitable.

“We thought we would die,” Sharon Beahm said when describing the smell inside the home she shares with her husband, Thomas.

Sharon said she and Thomas informed management about the pooling sewage on April 8, and the problem was not fully addressed until the city declared the units uninhabitable on April 23. The incident caused at least eight people to become displaced, all of whom are moving out of the apartment complex permanently -- and in one case, leaving Flagstaff altogether.

Residents also allege that management knew of the issues for some time but did not inform all of the affected residents that the crawlspaces under their homes had been flooded with sewage.

Carrissa Rose, the regional manager for Keller Investment Properties, which owns the complex, disagreed with the residents and wrote in a statement that after they discovered the problem, management “took steps to immediately address and remediate the issue.”

“Throughout the process, Ponderosa has worked closely with legal counsel and the City of Flagstaff to do all that it can to expeditiously fix the problem, accommodate those affected and operate within the bounds of the law,” Rose wrote in an email.

Sharon and Thomas said they began noticing the smell of sewage, with the smell being particularly strong when running their central heat, and let the management at Ponderosa Parkway Apartments know about it.

But they allege the apartment’s management didn’t take the appropriate action to address the problem, at first being told there was no sewage leak and any liquid in their crawlspace was caused by snowmelt.

The management hired a company to pump out several thousand gallons of water and then poured several hundred pounds of lime into the crawlspace. Lime absorbs water and is used as a drying agent.

“We reentered and there was nothing different. It was even worse,” Sharon said, adding that they were now dealing with fumes created by the lime that burned their throats.

Forced Out Following Sewage Leak

Sharon and Thomas Beahm stand in the doorway of their Ponderosa Park Appartments unit Tuesday. A broken sewage pipe in the crawlspace directly below their apartment led to about 12,000 gallons of raw sewage leaking.

Because the only access to the crawlspace is through each apartment’s closets, sewage had to be pumped out through the apartment. Thomas said he covered the floor and some furniture with plastic, but that didn’t stop some sewage from getting onto the walls and other belongings when one worker lost control of the pump.

At that time, the management did not check the pipe for leaks, and soon after, sewage was again pooling in the crawlspace under the three apartments.

On April 10, apartment management conducted mandatory maintenance checks of several apartments in the affected building. Kassandra Ramirez, who lived next door to Sharon and Thomas, said an apartment staff member checked the crawlspace in her home but did not tell her about any liquid or sewage.

A staff member also checked the apartments on the opposite side of the building, including apartment 110, in which Brenden Adair and his partner Ariana Corr had just moved in.

Adair said they were also not told anything was wrong with the apartment until April 22.

A day later, three of the apartments were declared uninhabitable by the city and residents had to move out so gallons of sewage could again be removed and the pipes finally repaired.

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Health concerns

Throughout April and before the problem was fully addressed, many residents also reported feeling sick.

Ramirez said she was among those feeling ill throughout that time.

“I was super, super sick. I had to miss over a week of work and I had a really bad sore throat. I lost my voice for over a week, and I sing, so that’s horrible,” Ramirez said. “But literally as soon as we left, I was feeling so much better in two days.”

Sharon, who is recovering from cancer, said she and Thomas were also feeling ill, especially having issues breathing.  

City Building Inspection Manager Rick Stanionis, who declared the units uninhabitable, said sewage can release substantial amounts of methane, displacing the oxygen within an environment, which can be detrimental to one’s health.

Residents flee

Since the units were declared uninhabitable, the last of the sewage was pumped out and the sewage pipe repaired, but many of the residents who were affected are still planning on moving out.

Ramirez said she had planned to live at Ponderosa Parkway until August, but she and her boyfriend Dylan Simon are now moving back to the Valley.

Adair said he and his partner have found a new apartment and are hoping the management will let them break the lease, given the circumstances. Adair said they want to move in part because even now, the crawlspace smells of sewage, but also because they are no longer sure they can trust their landlord.

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Adrian Skabelund can be reached at the office at askabelund@azdailysun.com, by phone at (928) 556-2261 or on Twitter @AdrianSkabelund.

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