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Bonnie Brae sewer project nearly complete; suit dropped

Posted: Wednesday, December 05, 2001

A project connecting the Bonnie Brae Subdivision to the city's sewer system is nearly complete, and a citizen's lawsuit filed to compel North Douglas sewer improvements has been dismissed.

The $4 million project will divert wastewater from about 200 Bonnie Brae and North Douglas homes to the Juneau-Douglas Treatment Plant. A sewer line under Gastineau Channel connecting to Channel Drive was constructed this summer.

Pat Yearty, who has lived at Bonnie Brae for 16 years, said residents will pay more to connect and will be charged a monthly sewer fee. But the project will add to property values and reduce maintenance worries, she added.

"In the long run, it's going to be really advantageous," she said.

Under city code, homeowners who live within 200 feet of a public sewer have 90 days to connect to the new system once it is available. Because of winter ground conditions, the city is granting an extension so residents have until June 29 to hook up.

Meanwhile, a lawsuit filed against the city by Juneau resident Tony Reiger over North Douglas sewer discharges has been dismissed. Juneau Superior Court Judge Larry Weeks in October ordered each side to pick up its costs and attorney fees.

Reiger filed the suit in March 2000, alleging that effluent and other liquids from Bonnie Brae posed a potential health hazard to the community and encroached on the Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge.

Bonnie Brae homes have individual treatment plants that connect to a common outfall pipe to Gastineau Channel, but the contents flowed onto the wetlands, the complaint alleged.

Reiger said he halted the suit because he was satisfied with plans to link Bonnie Brae into the existing city sewer system. But he said he's still worried the city is extending water lines without providing adequate sewer treatment.

"We have the same situation going on in the Bayview (Subdivision on North Douglas) as you've got going on at Bonnie Brae," he said. "You have failed sewer systems throughout the borough. It doesn't take Dick Tracy to figure out that fact."

In court documents, the city denied a sewage problem as alleged in Reiger's complaint and said it began working on North Douglas sewerage improvements before the suit was filed.

Joe Geldof, Reiger's attorney, said the suit helped raise public consciousness about the issue.

"At some point, behavior counts more than admission," he said. "The fact that the city accelerated construction of the Douglas Island sewer system and put the connector underneath Gastineau Channel speaks legions in this case."

But City Manager Dave Palmer said the lawsuit had no effect on the project whatsoever.

"I'm not sure you can sue a city to ask them to construct a project," he said. "The project was well under way when he filed the lawsuit."

As for future work, the city is applying for a state grant to connect homes from Falls Creek to Eagle Creek on North Douglas to the city sewers, said Rorie Watt of the city's engineering department.

"We did sampling in the ditches to see what had the highest fecal coliform and that area had the worst problems," he said.

The rest of North Douglas and Industrial Boulevard to Auke Bay also are on the list for future improvements, he added.

A majority of North Douglas residents responding to a neighborhood association survey this summer supported city sewer hookups, said board member Kathy Libbey. She lives outside of the area covered by the Bonnie Brae project.

"It's needed. You drive by ditches on your bike and you can smell it," she said. "I think it's needed quicker than what they're doing. I'd like to see it go faster."

Some residents who recently installed self-contained treatment systems were opposed to changes, Libbey noted.

The city plans to contribute about $3.1 million to the Bonnie Brae project with homeowners picking up $835,000 of the cost, Watt said. Funding for the city's portion comes from sales tax, loans and a state grant.

Properties on the highway will be assessed $5,000 and Bonnie Brae homeowners will pay $3,500. Homeowners who live downhill and need to install a lift station to pump sewage to a higher level will get a $1,000 credit.

Assessments will be added to homeowners' next property tax bill. The assessments can be paid immediately in full or under a 10-year payment plan. A public hearing on the assessments likely will be scheduled at an Assembly meeting in December or January, Watt said.

The common outfall pipe at Bonnie Brae now is connected to the city sewer system near Salmon Creek, but Bonnie Brae residents will need to decommission individual treatment tanks, Watt said. Contractor Miller Construction has some clean-up work and grass-planting left to complete, he said.

Joanna Markell can be reached at joannam@juneauempire.com.



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