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City’s sewer system has staff scratching heads

Sewage is leaking in the street, but some city leaders say residents may be responsible for fixing the problem.
Sewage is leaking along a portion of Franklin Street and some is leaking into nearby homes as well, but the city says the sewer line is private and was never dedicated to the city, according to City Administrator Rick Childers.
Franklin Street is not the only area in town where the sewer line is private. City Public Works employee Bob Duncan told the city Public Works Committee last week that he guesses there are about 15 areas in the city where sewer lines are private.
Property owners in the area want the city to fix the problem on Franklin Street, however, the lines are so small and fragile from age that city equipment cannot get down into the lines to clear them out, according to Childers. Furthermore, there is not a manhole near the line to get to it.
The theme of not being able to find sewer lines is starting to become prevalent. City Wastewater Director C.E. Goodall said the city is currently working with a property owner off of East Main Street to locate their sewer line. According to Goodall, the owner recently bought the property and now sewage is leaking. Goodall said the property owner cannot locate the sewer line and neither can the city. Goodall said it is puzzling that a whole sewer system can be installed underneath a city street without the city knowing.
“I can’t believe it got put in whenever it got put in, and the city didn’t know it,” Goodall said. “Someone had to say it was OK,”
Childers said using city equipment is not an option either. Childers said the sewer lines could be as much as 70 years old and most certainly made from clay tile. Childers said city equipment would blow out the line.
The committee instructed Childers to start seeking out property owners and to get a cost estimate to repair the line.
Childers said homeowners would have to get together and form an improvement district and vote on whether or not to make the repairs. Childers said if the city makes any repairs to the line, it assumes responsibility for the line. Childers said the city would carry a bond debt that would have to be paid back to the city by the property owners.
City Councilmen Dave Powell and Tom Williams said they believe property owners will take exception to having to pay to replace a sewer line. Powell said property owners would assume their sewer line belongs to the city.
“You think if you bought a house in Richmond, where they don’t allow a septic system, you would assume it is,” Powell said. “Why would someone who has bought a house 20 years ago do it with that expectation? It’s not their responsibility.”
Others were concerned that if the city repaired the line there would be 14 other lines waiting for repairs behind it. Williams suggested asking the property owners to pay for materials if the city supplies the labor. After the repairs were made, the city would then assume any future responsibility for the line.
Goodall said the city needs to do something about the leaking in the street now.
“We can’t leave sewage running down the road. We have to do something,” he said.
Councilwoman Melissa Miller asked what the Department of Natural Resources would do in this situation and was concerned about legal repercussions. Miller asked if DNR or the city could mandate the repairs to the property owners. Childers said no, but if the property owners voted in favor, then it would be mandated.
“We can’t mandate it, but if there are enough property owners willing to start the process, then the process can become mandated,” Childers said.
Childers went on to say that he is not certain who DNR would find at fault, but leaned toward the property owners.
Once the city determines how to move forward, a public hearing will be held.

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