New sewers may triple cost to home owners

Posted: Thursday, August 24, 2000

A sewer system along part of North Douglas Highway and Channel Drive will cost home and business owners several thousand dollars each. But it will end the flow of contaminated water from septic systems into streams, roadside ditches and Gastineau Channel.

"They're literally dumping on the community out there," said Tony Reiger, a member of the Mendenhall Refuge Citizen Advisory Group. "The community has the right to make them toe the mark."

The Juneau Assembly on Monday introduced an ordinance to create a local improvement district along portions of Channel Drive, North Douglas Highway and the Bonnie Brae Subdivision. The assembly has the authority to create such districts, which charge property owners for at least part of the cost of improvements they will benefit from.

But if there are objections by property owners whose assessments total half or more of the private cost, the assembly would need eight votes to establish the district. The assembly also could lower the assessments until they satisfied at least half of the affected property owners.

The city intends to extend a sewer main along Channel Drive, north of the DIPAC Gastineau Hatchery. It would cross Gastineau Channel, run along North Douglas Highway and connect to the Bonnie Brae sewage outfall pipe.

The district in its Douglas Island portion runs from about Nelson Creek to about 2,000 feet south of Falls Creek.

The sewer project was opposed by more than half of the affected property owners who responded to an informal city poll this summer. But only 78 of 204 owners returned the poll.

Sharon Fitzgerald, who owns a duplex on North Douglas Highway, thinks sewers are a good idea, but she's concerned about the cost. She'll have to pay $5,000 for the sewer line, about $2,000 to fill in her septic system and then pay $75 more a month on her water and sewer bill - roughly triple the current charges.

"To pay triple for water and sewer than what I'm paying now is the pits," Fitzgerald said.

The project is expected to cost about $4.6 million and state grants will cover half of that. If the ordinance is passed, property owners will pay a combined maximum of $835,000, starting with the 2002 property tax billing. The rest of the city's share will be paid from sales tax and sewer fund revenues.

Property owners may pay the assessment in full with no interest charges or spread their payments over 10 years with 8.5 percent interest.

Owners of lots in the Bonnie Brae Subdivision will pay $3,500 each, minus $1,000 if the lot is downhill from the sewer main. In those cases, property owners will have to install lift stations, to pump sewage to a higher level, at their own expense. The cost for properties outside of Bonnie Brae is $5,000 a lot, less $1,000 if the lot is downhill from the sewer main.

The costs are less for residents of Bonnie Brae because that subdivision already has sewer pipes in place, said city Public Works Director Ernie Mueller.

The costs to homeowners are similar to the last five sewer improvement districts, Mueller said. The flat fee is arbitrary, he said, but it replaced a complex formula based on lot size, which many people considered unfair.

The city long has planned to add sewers along North Douglas Highway. But the pace was accelerated by the state's concern about the discharge of partially treated sewage into the Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge at the Bonnie Brae outfall pipe, Mueller said.

The city also has detected high concentrations of bacteria found in human waste in nearby streams and roadside ditches, presumably from septic systems, Mueller said.

The state Department of Fish and Game, which manages the game refuge, refused to grant a required special area permit for the Bonnie Brae outfall pipe. In order to get a state wastewater discharge permit for Bonnie Brae, the city agreed to a compliance order that would end the discharge by Aug. 31, 2002.

Mueller said the new sewer line could be in place by early winter 2001. he city has scheduled a public hearing for 7 p.m. Oct. 2 at the assembly chambers. It will consider adopting the ordinance then. Property owners may send in written comments before then, or voice their opinions at the hearing.

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