No backflow valve: New Encinal library damaged by feces surge

When the new Encinal Public Library opened last year, its operations were limited by constraints imposed under health and safety protocols due to the coronavirus pandemic, but county officials were unaware that the building lacked a backflow device that would prevent raw sewage rushing across the floor.

Heavy rains recently raised sewage and run-off levels to unanticipated highs in a low-lying area near the Encinal library and new convention center, and employees were confronted late last month with a toxic deluge that forced the facility to close its doors again.

According to La Salle County commissioners in a meeting Monday, June 14, the Encinal library was affected by “a flood of feces” that left the building in need of emergency repairs before it may reopen.

The convention center, built in the same development beside the county park and the Union Pacific Railroad line in Encinal, was also affected by the deluge, according to La Salle County Judge Joel Rodriguez, who told commissioners this week that both structures lack a backflow prevention device in their wastewater lines.

The judge described the device as “a valve with a flap that opens when waste is flushed out of the building but closes if the sewer line backs up.”

Rodriguez said he believes the device’s installation should have been included in blueprints for the county’s new dialysis center, currently under construction on North Baylor Street near the Elderly Nutrition Center in Cotulla.

Commissioners learned that no such device has been ordered.

“Sewage lift stations do not work if they are inundated with heavy rains,” the county judge said. “They back up.”

Rodriguez said he believes construction of a new elementary school and other property development in the area of the new dialysis center will exact a toll on any lift station serving wastewater lines near North Baylor Street.

“A dialysis center is held to a high standard of cleanliness, so we definitely need a backflow device there,” the judge told commissioners. “The library was flooded with feces. We can’t have that happen again.”

The judge said commissioners should have cause for concern over the amount of sewage entering the city’s wastewater lines from hotels in the vicinity of the dialysis center.

“It would be disastrous at the dialysis clinic,” the judge said. “You don’t want any place to get contaminated like the library. You don’t want the sewer coming back up.”

Commissioners learned that repairs to the library will include removing sheetrock from walls and sanitizing the structure before refinishing the building.

Elected officials concurred this week that insurance claims will be filed against the builder.

“We are paying very good dollars for a very good contract,” Rodriguez said. “The sewer should not have backed up. This is a bonded project, and we are going to hold them to it.”

The county has confirmed this month that mold was recently discovered at the new fire station and that it may have been caused by a lack of adequate ventilation, allowing condensation from the facility’s air conditioning system to accumulate. Repairs are underway, according to the judge.

“The library is a brand new building; it’s not what we expected,” Rodriguez said. “We need to get that building functional, put pressure on the bonding company and the insurance.

“When we built the [Las Palmas] nursing home and the Emergency Operations Center, we had a couple of leaks and the contractor came back and fixed it,” the judge said of problems that were discovered after other county facilities were completed in recent years. “We have never had anything like this.”