Thursday, December 31, 2009

47 leaks in Woodstock

If you read the Minutes of the December 1, 2009 meeting of the Woodstock City Council, you'll see that resident Elva Shafer, 514 Desmond Drive, showed up to address the Council about newspaper coverage of stormwater management. She wanted to know if her house is one of the 47 houses with pipes that are leaking.

The Minutes do not reflect whether her house is one of them, but wouldn't you think that she would know by now if it is?

Council Minutes reflect a statement by Mayor Sager that a program is currently being organized to accommodate those (homeowners) who cannot afford to fix the leaks. The Minutes state that there is "also" a program that benefits those who sign up for the program early.

Does this mean two programs? Or different levels of "benefits" for homeowners?

This morning's Northwest Herald carries a headline on Page C-1 that reads, "City confirms 47 leaks." The article reports that the leaks are in the sanitary sewer lines that are on private property. "Technically, the leaks are the responsibility of private homeowners." So says the newspaper.

OK, so if the leaks are on private property, why is the City going to chip in on repair costs? Or could the case be that "technically" it's the City that is responsible, since the lines are "sanitary sewer" lines feeding into the City's system and which must be protected by the City.

Mayor Sager apparently told the reporter that the city "would consider financial hardship (of homeowners) and be willing to work out a payment plan for residents." He also supposedly said that the City "would not place liens on the homes of residents unable to pay for the fix."

I'm more than a little concerned about the mayor's hands in the City's checkbook. How can he so readily promise any homeowner financial relief by the City of Woodstock? Won't it actually be a decision of the City Council to grant any financial relief to individual homeowners?

Should the homeowners participate in a cost-sharing deal, or should they be determining whether it's the City that is on the hook for the total cost of stormwater management, even if the pipes are on private property?

What is the status of the class-action lawsuit against the City of Woodstock that was filed after the 2007 flooding?

1 comment:

DownByTheRiver said...

Hey Gus -

Generally speaking, both water and sewer lines on your property are owned by you and are your cost to fix - or to to provide as new.

Interestingly, I've witnessed free repairs almost always for phone, cable, electricity and gas lines (buried or not) when the failure isn't due to the property owner's negligence, but is simply due to "organic" failure, including soil issues..

Water and sewer, on the other hand, not so much. Perhaps the difference is in their charters somewhere, as they're usually municipality-owned utilities?

Once sewer is involved though, all kinds of other regulations, state and federal, come into play.

If I remember correctly, a long while back in Hoffman Estates, homes located in "Parcel B?", the development that more than doubled the Village back in the 60's and 70's, used a new kind of composite sanitary pipe that ended up failing spectacularly. If memory serves, the Village ended up securing cooperative agreements with the owners and particular vendor(s) which I believe shared costs - you had cash-strapped homeowners, the fact that the Village approved the original pipe spec, you don't want leaky sewage of any sort, etc.

Storm water entering and overwhelming the sanitary system, on the otherhand, is a BIG no-no, whether on a State or Federal basis. That's the whole point of the "deep tunnel" project in and around the Cook County suburbs. Otherwise, sanitary operators have little choice other than releasing un-treated sewage into local waterways.

This situation is regulated and enforced against the municipality or utility, as they are responsible for that utility. Regardless of cause, there are incredible incentives (fines) for those systems to comply, so it's not unusual for all kinds of cooperative financial arrangements on this score which in the end, are much less costly than if the utility being hard asses (as they directly bear the "costs" of non-compliance as the operators), wherein such policies do little to solve the issue.

A bill of many thousands of dollars are usually a hardship for 50% of the homeowners, so officials do the best they can with the situation presented. In the end, as long as the "same" deal is offered to any and all such affected properties - now or in the future - it should pass the "smell" test and is fair to all customers of that utility.