All systems go for south-end sewers

Sewer service is coming to four south-end neighborhoods.

Buoyed by the paucity of objections during a formal protest period, the City Council Wednesday OK’d a Local Improvement District to fund extension of sewer mains to Emerald Heights, Pleasant Beach, Point White and Rockaway Beach.

The 7-0 vote, taken on a motion by Councilwoman Lois Curtis, surprised the few sewer proponents in attendance and some council members as well. The issue was listed on the evening’s agenda as a report, with discussion and action not expected for another two weeks.

But most of those on the dais were clearly wearied by the issue, which first came before the council more than four years ago with informal calls for sewer service to Emerald Heights.

“I don’t know what we could possibly talk about that we haven’t already,” Councilwoman Debbie Vancil said, in supporting Curtis’ motion.

Bill Gilbert, one of several Rockaway Beach residents who had lobbied the council for a quick vote, expressed satisfaction.

“I think we got what we wanted to accomplish,” Gilbert said. “There’s no ifs, ands or buts, or diddling around with things. It’s done.”

Designated LID No. 20, the district encompasses some 220 properties in the four neighborhoods.

Current estimates show LID costs of $6,900 to $15,300 for properties that don’t hook up to sewer immediately; costs range from $20,000-$28,000 for those that do, to be paid back over a 20-year period.

A formal protest period that could have torpedoed the LID ended last Friday with scant objections – or conversely, as some noted, overwhelming support.

Charles Hawk, another Rockaway Beach resident active in the sewer effort, said objections were blunted by the city’s successful bid for an ultra-low-interest loan from the state to finance the project.

Over the summer, the city qualified for a $5.6 million loan to be paid back at one-half percent interest over 20 years; that obviated the need to sell higher-interest bonds, and halved the LID for assessments property owners.

“It effectively took us back to cost figures where we were three years ago, when petitions were filed,” Hawk said.

While there had been talk that some property who did not want service would be allowed to opt out – referred to as “piano keying,” as those properties were blacked out on a map – support among council members had eroded by the time the vote was taken.

Vancil argued that the project had been undertaken for the benefit of neighborhoods, not individuals; those sentiments were echoed by her colleagues.

“I know there are people in the boundaries who don’t want to be there,” Councilwoman Lois Curtis said, “but that’s the nature of an LID, I’m afraid.”

Agreed Councilman Bill Knobloch: “Opening a Pandora’s Box with a ‘piano key’ withdrawal is just asking for a giant headache.”

Sewer backers had argued that removing properties from the project would drive up costs for those left in, and would slow the project with another round of hearings and protests.

Public works officials now will return to the council on Nov. 25 with a contract for final project design by the engineering firm Berryman and Henigar. The project is expected to go out to bid next spring, with construction in late summer.

When mains are in place, individual property owners will have to hire their own contractors to run lines out from their homes. Many could be on sewer by the end of 2004.

“It’s all taken a long time, and it’s not over with yet,” Hawk said, looking ahead to bidding and construction. “But I have long adopted the policy that we have to take this thing one step at a time. If we tried to look at the big picture, we all would have quit a long time ago.”

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