Mayor's $64 million sewer plan passes; how does it affect Duluth homeowners?

In the next few days, Duluth Mayor Don Ness will sign an ordinance that puts his$64 million sewer plan into effect within 30 days. The plan is aimed at meeting a federal requirement to stop sewage overflows into Lake Superior.

In the next few days, Duluth Mayor Don Ness will sign an ordinance that puts his$64 million sewer plan into effect within 30 days. The plan is aimed at meeting a federal requirement to stop sewage overflows into Lake Superior.

That doesn't mean property owners' obligations to pay for sewer fixes will start right away. Those details were being feverishly worked out Friday by the city's Public Works and Engineering departments.

"We didn't know what the guidelines would be until midnight last night," said Pete Weidman, the city's maintenance utility supervisor. "We're working as fast as possible on this. ... The devil will be in the details."

Here are the best answers we could gather on questions we expect Duluth residents to have:

Q: When will the city begin to collect the $5.77 monthly "clean water" surcharge from the 25,000-plus sewer customers?


A: Weidman called that priority No. 1, hoping that collection starts by Aug. 1. "We want to start collecting as soon as possible," he said. "But we need to set up a bank account."

Q: When will the point-of-sale requirements of the ordinance begin?

A: Before any buildings or homes can be sold in the city, an inspection is required to ensure that a sump pump has been installed, the foundation drain has been disconnected and the house trap has been removed. Property owners will have to pay about $2,000 to put those fixes in place, even if that property isn't contributing to the overflow problem.

Weidman said the Public Works Department will begin meeting Monday with realtors to start implementing the requirements. However, Weidman wasn't sure he would have the staff and tools in place by the time the ordinance is expected to take effect in late July.

Q: When will homeowners be told they need to fix their sewer lines?

A: That, too, needs to be worked out. This year, at least 175 homes will be required to upgrade or replace their sewer lines -- also called laterals.

"We need to get moving on that," Weidman said.

The only way for the city to determine if a line needs repair is to televise it during a rainfall. That's already happened in several neighborhoods, but Weidman said the city needs to come up with criteria to determine which ones need fixes the most.


Q: How will homeowners pay for the lateral fixes?

A: The cost to repair the lines has averaged about $7,500; the city is requiring homeowners to pay the entire cost.

Weidman said the city will work with local banks to see if any are willing to offer a financing package similar to one Park State Bank offered Morgan Park residents for their infrastructure upgrades over the past two years. That plan offered interest rates of 6.25 percent for up to 20 years, but only families with a maximum family income of $93,100 could qualify.

Ness has said that he wants to use Housing Investment Fund money to help low-income homeowners with the fixes, but Weidman said details on who would qualify for that haven't been worked out.

Q: Which areas of the city will be targeted in the ordinance?

A: No home in the city will be spared from the point-of-sale requirement, while nearly two dozen sewer basins will be targeted for the lateral repairs. (See map.)

Weidman said that some of those basins will be scrutinized more closely than others beginning in 2008 and 2009, but he didn't know yet which ones. Ultimately, all homes in the city with faulty laterals will need to be repaired under the language of the ordinance.

Q: When and where will the storm water tanks be built?


A: The first tank, called the Lakeside Interceptor, will be built at the corner of 20th Avenue East and Water Street by 2010 at an estimated cost of $5.5 million. The second tank, called the East Interceptor, will be built at 200 Lake Place Drive in Canal Park by 2013 at an estimated cost of $36 million.

The clean water surcharge will go to pay for both tanks.

Ironically, if the lateral and sump plan is successful, those tanks probably will sit empty.

Weidman said it's possible the second tank might not have to built, if the lateral plan is shown to eliminate overflows, but the plan for now is to build the tank.

"It's a great dream. It's not impossible," he said. "But we are fully engaged in building two tanks. ... We can't forecast the weather. If it doesn't rain, we won't have a problem. But if it rains as intensely as we've seen lately, this will do nothing but intensify."

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