Neighbors' fight for sewer line goes to council

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

SMELLY SEPTIC SYSTEMS

By Bob Miller ~ Southeast Missourian

Good fences may make good neighbors, but bad septic systems can stir up a stink.

Four neighbors who live next door to each other along the 2300 block of Perryville Road in Cape Girardeau are in disagreement on whom should be responsible for the costs of a sewer line that would run through their back yards.

Neighbors Ruth Ellen Holdman and Bob McDowell want city sewer service desperately as their septic tanks are seeping. But Norval Friese and Robert Pastrick have had no problems with their own septic tanks and don't think they should help foot the bill for someone else's need.

Now, after struggling with odor and seepage for about 19 months and not being able to come to an agreement to split the costs for a private contractor, the issue is in the city's hands.

The city council Monday gave first-round approval to Holdman and McDowell's desire to create a sewer district in the area.

Holdman, who has two septic pumps in her back yard, has had septic problems since the fall of 2000. She can smell the seeping sewage from her deck and swimming pool. Her aunt, Sylvia Johnson, has not been able to use the bathroom in her downstairs apartment because of the septic trouble. She goes upstairs to use Holdman's.

At the McDowell residence, Bob and Sharon have their septic tank pumped frequently -- as much as once a month -- at a cost of $90 each time.

"It's been a terrible mess, a terrible inconvenience the last three years," Sharon McDowell said.

Running over

Meanwhile, the sewage that seeps from the Holdman's property runs off into Friese's back yard. A good portion of Friese's yard cannot be maintained because the flow keeps the soil constantly saturated. Friese has been frustrated with the situation for some time, making numerous complaints to the city and county health department.

The health department directed Holdman to take immediate steps to solve the problem.

Holdman and McDowell were both told that their lots are too small to handle septic systems and that the ground couldn't handle the volume. They contacted the city, Holdman said, and the city told them to form their own district, have plans drawn up and hire a contractor to do the work.

"They basically told us we had to do this ourselves," Holdman said.

So Holdman and McDowell hired an engineer to draw up plans. But when it came time to get Friese and Pastrick to climb aboard, Holdman and McDowell hit a roadblock.

Friese has said he'll donate easement for the project, but he does not want to share the cost or be included in the sewer district. Pastrick, whose property has not suffered from his own or others' septic systems, refused to donate the easement.

Friese is frustrated that he may have to pay assessment on the project, a cost that will no doubt be higher than if the four homeowners split the cost for a private contractor.

"I can't understand how they can do that if we're not having trouble," Friese said. "I thought this was a free country. I heard it's going to cost $15,000. I can't afford that."

Friese is also upset about the fact that the city's policy that a district can only be formed with a majority vote. However, city engineer Mark Lester said the council can overrule that policy if there are health issues at stake.

Holdman said that the sewer will ultimately benefit everybody involved.

"I didn't have any problems with my septic tank one day and the next day it's in my basement," she said. "Who is to say theirs won't fail that quickly? I think it's just a matter of time before everybody has problems out there. It's the same ground in their back yard. Plus, city sewer is just a more favorable route to go and I don't know why anyone wouldn't want to be on city sewer. It won't do anything but improve your property value."

Lester said that if all goes well, the sewer will be functional in the fall.

bmiller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 127

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