Ness changes sewer proposal
Duluth Mayor Don Ness brought forward a revised sewer ordinance Thursday that cuts the Clean Water surcharge in half, but requires homeowners to pay the entire cost for repairing or replacing private sewer lines while increasing the number of hom...
Duluth Mayor Don Ness brought forward a revised sewer ordinance Thursday that cuts the Clean Water surcharge in half, but requires homeowners to pay the entire cost for repairing or replacing private sewer lines while increasing the number of homeowners who could potentially be affected by that cost.
The City Council voted down Ness' original plan to eliminate sanitary sewer overflows to comply with the demands of the Environmental Protection Agency.
One of the councilors who voted against it was Greg Gilbert, who wanted to see Ness' proposed $9.70-a-month surcharge reduced for those who had less usage of sewer lines and increased for those who use it more.
However, Ness' new proposal, introduced by Gilbert, sees the surcharge cut to a uniform $5.57 a month.
But that means homeowners required to get their sewer lines fixed will have to pay more. Under Ness' original proposal, the city would have paid $2,000 and any amount over $8,000 for individual private sewer line fixes, money paid for by the Clean Water surcharge that under Ness' new proposal would go toward the construction of storm-water storage basins.
Under Ness' proposal, the city still will target at least 175 homes a year to have their lines repaired to satisfy the EPA, but it also will require any homeowner to repair malfunctioning sewer lines at what's been an average cost of $7,500.
The city has said that most homes with clay pipes -- those built before the mid-1970s -- probably need those pipes to be repaired or replaced.
Ness said the city is looking at ways to provide loans of up to $5,000 to low- to moderate-income homeowners to pay for the sewer fixes that would be forgiven after 10 years, but specifics of that program have not been developed.
Homeowners who don't qualify for the forgivable loans could pay for the fixes out of pocket, or through a loan given by a private lender. Homeowners no longer would have the option of financing the work through city assessment.
The new sewer proposal also would see the surcharge extended from 15 to 20 years, though Ness said federal and state money should reduce that duration.
A proposed point-of-sale part of the ordinance also remains intact, requiring property being sold to be inspected for sump pump installation, footing drain disconnection and house trap removal, and if needed, mandating those repairs within 90 days under threat of a $250-a-month surcharge.
Ness told the council that the new proposal was a result of "the concerns many of you brought forward."
Ness needs five city councilors to vote for the ordinance to pass and probably will get them after reaching the apparent compromise with Gilbert.
While councilors can vote on the ordinance on Monday, councilor Jim Stauber said he would look to table it until the next council meeting on June 19, citing the need for more information and public input, something Ness said he would be agreeable to.
Ness said the EPA is demanding the city show a way to pay for fixes for its sewer problem or face severe sanctions and fines.
Stauber was critical of the new proposal, saying it would cost homeowners thousands of dollars in repairs that the city isn't yet certain will work.
"We're still in the stages of researching whether or not this has any real value," he said. "We're just going to drive around and say, hey, you need to spend $8,000 to fix your [sewers]."