A Cape Coral woman received a big check Thursday from the city as reimbursement for paying for sewer services for decades that she apparently was never connected to.
Ronnie Tribulas, 90, of 1911 S.E. 45th Street, was hand-delivered a refund check for $3,410.24. The city also extended a "goodwill credit" toward the current balance due on her water bill of $59.91.
"We will never know for certain what happened 36 years ago when this home should have been connected to the sewer system," said City Manager John Szerlag said in a prepared statement.
"What we can do is refund the sewer usage charges Mrs. Tribulas has paid over the years, clear her account and give her a clean slate to start her monthly water/sewer billing," Szerlag continued.
Stepdaughter Joan Tribulas said Tribulas was "totally ecstatic" to receive the check.
"We couldn't believe the city came through with any money," she said.
Tribulas had been paying monthly sewer charges since moving into the home in the late 1980s. A city sewer project was completed in her area in 1978, and homes were noticed to connect that May. When Tribulas experienced a sewage problem in October, a plumber discovered her home was still on septic.
Tribulas did not have funds to pay for the sewer line connection, which was complicated by a burrowing owl nest positioned between the connection point and the home. Dennis Rohaley, owner of Rohaley & Sons Plumbing Contractors, eventually learned of the situation and offered to help.
"I've been putting sewers in the Cape since 1976," he said, when asked why he stepped forward. "I thought it was the right thing to do. It's a a good feeling to do that for somebody."
Rohaley said Tribulas cried when she learned of his plans.
"They're both very sweet people," he said of Tribulas and her stepdaughter.
On Monday, Rohaley & Sons Plumbing Contractors disconnected Tribulas from her septic tank and hooked her up to the city sewer. Two days later, they crushed the septic tank and filled the hole.
A typical hookup, Rohaley estimated that the project would have cost about $1,600.
"There's no cost at all," he said, however, of this case.
Along with Rohaley, others donated their time and supplies to the cause.
Gorman Plumbing donated the materials, Crews Environmental waived the dump fees for what was removed from the tank and Southwest Utility Systems donated the dirt and sand to fill the hole.
"I think that was very nice of all three companies, stepping up to help out," Rohaley said.
He also praised the Cape Coral Utilities Department.
"I appreciate how they stepped up to the plate to help expedite this job," Rohaley said.
The department paid the $75 fee for the septic tank abandonment application.
An independent biologist was contacted to scope the burrowing owl nest, which was determined to be an inactive nest and collapsed. The Utilities Department also covered the $390 cost for the services. A Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife member helped the family locate a new starter burrow on the property.
Joan Tribulas described the outpouring of support from the community as "totally unexpected."
"We are just blown away by it. We can't believe it," she said. "My stepmother is praying for everyone who helped her. She's just so thankful."
According to officials, city billing records only go back to 2000; however, the city used 1991 as the earliest year, which was when the home was transferred to Tribulas.
The city then calculated the pre-2000 amount by using historical consumption averages at the home, leaning toward the higher side.
The refund represents only the monthly usage charges, which are added to the monthly base sewer charges. The monthly base sewer charge would be due regardless of the status of the connection.