On Wednesday morning — despite pleas to the contrary — the board of selectmen approved a sewer project.
Marion Howard is not pleased.
She lives on Bulkley Road North. About 15 years ago, she says, a resident on the east (Sasco Creek) side of the street circulated a petition. It asked the town to extend sewers north from Old Road, to include parts of Bulkley. At the time, 50 percent of the homeowners needed to sign such a petition for it to be considered.
Since then, Marion says, the minimum requirement was raised to 75%. The reason, she explains, is recognition that sewer projects require homeowners to pay assessments.
Marion claims that since the original petition was submitted there have been substantive changes to the proposed project, adding other streets and locations. However, Marion says, the petition was grandfathered in at 50% of homeowners, not the current 75% — and it included all those who had previously signed. However, she says, many properties changed hands in the ensuing 15 years.
Marion says that when she bought her home — after the original petition was circulated — she was not told that a potential assessment was in progress. She also says the town did not poll existing homeowners, which was one reason the project was stopped a year ago.
For homeowners like her, who attended a previous assessment meeting, the estimate per family was placed at approximately $10,000-15,000, she says. On Tuesday — the day before yesterday’s meeting — she received a letter putting the estimate per property at $17,166. She fears the cost estimate could balloon even higher.
She adds that a sewer is “not even necessary” for her property. Her septic system was built for a 5-bedroom home, but there are only 3 occupants. (The request for a sewer, she says, came about because the lower elevation on the east side of Bulkley makes those homes more vulnerable to septic issues.)
And she wonders how many other such petitions or potential assessments are also in the works.
If Marion is correct he town is ripe for another law suit. She should poll her neighbors ASAP. Any petition that is 15 years old and governed by rules that are no longer in place cannot be considered valid by any stretch of the imagination. Sewers eventually invite density, possibilities for sub-divisions and greater stresses on the town infrastructure. Unless there is actual cases of hardship, sewer extensions should be avoided in residential areas.
Marion Howard is incorrect about the cost estimate given by town officials, and several other statements attributed to her are misleading.
My notes from the 2/4/13 informational meeting about this sewer project show that town officials gave an estimate of $15,000 to $18,000 for the assessment, not the $10,000 that Ms. Howard now claims. The current estimate of $17,165.96 is within that estimate. I also have a letter dated 1/28/13 to neighbors from Marion and Tom Howard, Sydney and David Brown, and Jill M Sheppard, which says that “you will be responsible for the $20,000 charge…”, so at that point she thought the charge would be $20,000.
The comment that the petition “included all those who had previously signed” is misleading because it is irrelevant: town officials allowed current homeowners to add or remove themselves from the petition. As a result, more homeowners were added to the petition than removed.
The comment that “the town did not poll existing homeowners, which was one reason the project was stopped a year ago” is misleading in two ways. First, although the town did not “poll” (i.e., individually ask each current homeowner), the town sent notice of the project and the public meetings about it to existing homeowners, and, as noted above, allowed them to add or withdraw their participation in the petition. Second, the project was not “stopped” a year ago. There was a three month delay while the project was being considered, during which time there was an “extra” (unusual) public meeting about the project (the 2/4/13 meeting), but the time since the 3/13/13 approval has been spent (as is normal) having the engineering work done to prepare for sending out proposals for the project — it has nothing to do with opposition to the project.
A few other comments:
It is correct that, at the 11/12/14 meeting, two people spoke against the project. However, at this and other meetings, although most of the discussion was by opponents, my impressions was that most attendees were in favor of the project. (That impression is buttressed by the fact that more homeowners added themselves to the petition than removed themselves from it.) It seemed clear to me at these meetings that the project would go forward (because of the support evidenced by the petitions), so as far as I recall, I didn’t bother to speak in favor of the project. I would have been happy to do so had I felt it necessary. I think this may be a true case of a “silent majority” in favor of the project being, well, “silent”.
Payments to the town for this charge may be spread over 19 years and will be at the interest rate the bonding is/was done for — according to Steve Edwards at the 11/12/14 meeting, that is currently about 3% or 4%.
The change requiring 75% of homeowners to petition for sewers was accompanied by a requirement that everyone served by the sewers (not just those who signed the petition) must “hook up” to the sewers at their own expense with the work being done by their own contractor. Those who signed the “50% petitions” also need to “hook up”, but those who did not sign — presumably including Ms. Howard — do not need to do so.
In my opinion, town official have acted responsibly and flexibly to the problem of the long lag between the original petitions (which were submitted in the late 1990s) and the approval. The flexibility is shown by the extra public “informational” meeting and by allowing current homeowners to add or remove themselves from the petition.
There is one aspect of the sewer assessment issue that has not been completely addressed by the town. It affects all such assessments, not just this project. If the assessment is paid over time as described above, the town gets some kind of lien on the property, and it is claimed that that lien can interfere with the financial arrangements that some people wish to make with nursing homes to allow one spouse to be in the nursing home and gives the nursing home some kind of right to the home while allowing the other spouse to remain in the home. (I might not have that quite right because I don’t understand it well myself.) At the 11/12/14 meeting a claim was made that someone had sold their home and moved because of this problem. It is something that town officials should look into; my understanding is that Town Attorney Ira Bloom will be doing that, but I could be mistaken.
Unfortunately, this is a “neighbor vs. neighbor” issue — some homeowners want sewers, some don’t. It’s sort of like schools — everyone pays for them, but some homeowners don’t use them.
Also glossed over in this account of Ms. Howard’s concerns is the decades’ long issue of protecting and preserving water quality in the Sasco Brook Watershed, which I believe is a problem/proposed remedy that impacts more than just the local homeowners. As one report says, “This sewer expansion is a priority because of Sasco Creek being listed on the state’s list of impaired waterways. A Positive 8-24 report has been issued by the P&ZC and it is now to the Board of Finance and then out to bid for engineering documents.” Here’s a link to a 200-page report issued in 2011. It’s actually quite readable in parts: http://www.ct.gov/deep/lib/deep/water/watershed_management/wm_plans/sasco_brook_wbp_abridged.pdf
Ms Howard should be content on whatever her assessment will be considering that a new septic system could easily run about $50,000 as we found out when ours had to be redone. Would love to get sewers on our street.
The “claim”, as you stated, that someone moved because of this particular sewer situation is in fact true. After living on Old Road for 29 years, my husband and I were the couple that decided it was time to move on, and so we sold our home in July of 2013. We were completely surprised when we received a letter in November 2012 from the First Selectman’s office informing us that a meeting was being held in five days to review the petition. We were aware of the petition years ago, but thought it was no longer pending. There were many reasons why this pushed us over the edge that you are not aware of. We were extremely disappointed with how the Department of Public Works and some politicians handled residents concerns. This was not in our retirement plan and we did not want a lien placed against our property.
Because the petition sat in Town Hall for 14 years, the DPW should have contacted homeowners annually with regards to the status of the petition. Communicate. Inform. Update. There were new homeowners that knew nothing about it. There were homeowners that signed the petition that had no idea what a sewer installation would involve. There were homeowners like us who DID NOT sign the petition and had no idea what a sewer installation would involve if in fact the project was approved by the Board of Selectmen.
Just as an FYI-We were informed by the DPW that once the sewers were in place, homeowners do not have to hook up. HOWEVER, if their existing septic system fails or needs some work, the town will not approve a new system or any repairs and the homeowner DOES have to hook up to the new sewer system at their own expense. This also came as a complete surprise. Perhaps that requirement has now changed.
As a final notation, one would think that when a petition is circulated for a potential sewer system, there would be pertinent information that is clearly noted on the document explaining what the regulations are, what the requirements are, what the approximate cost would be, time elements, hook up requirements, etc. The Department of Public Works should look into changing the wording of the petition document if they have not already done so.
Residents should have all information to help them make a decision with regards to the home they own.
When I think of septic “systems” I think of rural, not municipal, lands.
How does Westport’s sewer system work? Treatment facility? Please say not in the rivers and ocean.
Marion should now look over her shoulder at Old Saugatuck. An entire neighborhood facing the introduction of 186 new units of multiple housing on one street. A street situated at the very back end of a circle of seven short public access ways (with public maintenance ), and where the eighth street is situated, the Town made it a dead end street, made it a private access way, so that the houses on the street have no winter plowing or street cleaning, no pot holes filled, no street lamps to light the way,and no leaf removal in the Fall. This strip of land about five acres was land originally carved out in the 1950’s (mid-so) to be given over to those families displaced by the construction of Interstate 95 through the Saugatuck community and through their homes. The seven other streets making up the historical enclave come with an earlier history in the 1850’s, of Italian rail workers who didn’t return to Italy, but made Saugatuck their home. These folks ended up as principles in the fabulous commercial growth and economic development of Westport. This group of laborers represented an unparalleled opportunity for Westport’s accelerated growth. This heritage background of homes in Saugatuck is reflected in how many homes have traditionally been passed down through the family and through the generations……
Carolanne Curry 29 Hiawatha Lane EXTENSION 203-227-3573
I am the resident who did the petition. Her facts are not totally correct. There are approximately 85% of the residents who want the sewer. It was reconfirmed last year by the town. The estimated assessment is usually 10% less than the actual costs. The annual cost will be approximately $900 per year for 19 years , and it is an additional tax deduction as real estate taxes. She is correct about the septic issues, we are polluting Sasco Creek, it needs to be cleaned up. I am finally glad it is going through, a side benefit is that it increases the value of the house.