Raising a stink: Fight over Caseyville sewer tap continues

News-DemocratFebruary 5, 2014 

Some residents continue to raise a stink in Caseyville Township years after a new sewer system was aimed to fight a smelly problem.

A $6.1 million sewer extension project broke ground in 2012 and was completed in the fall in the Weinel Hills area to help to alleviate a foul odor in the area, raw sewage runoff into lakes and a potential health hazard.

But about one-third of the more than 300 residents are like Jack Hickman who said he has a working aeration system, or others who have working septic system, that is not causing any damage to the environment.

Hickman is asking the Caseyville Township Sewer committee if he and other residents can be grandfathered in until their systems are no longer working properly and not be forced to tap in to the sewer line, paying thousands of dollars in the process.

"I'm fighting city hall and I'm going to win," said Hickman, 64, who has lived in his home on Wilshire Drive for 25 years.

More than 100 residents have tapped into the sewer system since it was completed in the fall, said Bruce Canty, the township supervisor.

The costs of tapping into the sewer is overwhelming for some residents.

Costs include: $28 per month to the township and one-time costs of $75 township inspection fee, $2,500 for the tap-in fee to the township and about $2,000 or more for contractor installation (that cost will vary per household).

The township has allowed residents to finance the township fee for up to 36 months.

Trustee James Lemansky said the board members did not realize the financial burden the sewer installation would put on some residents. "From the very beginning, we felt as though we were doing a service to the people over in that area," he said.

A couple months ago Hickman said he proposed the grandfathering resolution to the sewer committee but it was tabled for further discussion. He hopes they will talk about it again at Thursday night's meeting.

Lemansky said he is not opposed to Hickman's idea, but the township would have to figure out how to fund the loan if not all the residents they planned on were paying into the system.

The township is paying for the project with an Illinois Environmental Protection Agency loan. A fourth of the cost will be covered by a grant from the agency. Upon completion, loan payments are estimated to be $277,568 a year. Fairview Heights will pay 25 percent of loan payments up to $85,000 a year. The township will pay the rest with sewer revenues.

Trustee Rick Donovan said he likes Hickman's plan. He hopes Hickman will work directly with the Caseyville Township attorney Tim Fleming to get an answer from the EPA if grandfathering in residents would change the terms of the loan.

"If we go ahead and do this grandfathering thing without the EPA approval," Donovan cautioned, "well that's going to hamper our agreement with the EPA."

Donovan said Tuesday he was waiting on an answer from the EPA and did not expect a response before Thursday's meeting.

Kim Biggs, a spokeswoman for the Illinois EPA, said Wednesday: "The agency had made a determination and shared it with the local resident who was inquiring. To my knowledge, this has also been shared with local officials, but I don't know who was contacted exactly from the township. The agency noted that we do not have jurisdiction to tell the local government whether or not they can allow an exception of grandfathering to existing septic owners. That is something that the homeowners would need to address with their local authorities, in this case (Caseyville) Township. Our only role in this would be whether or not if it would result in a material change to the loan agreement. Our conclusion was that whether or not grandfathering is or is not allowed would not constitute a material change to the existing loan agreement. Basically, what it boils down to is that this is a local issue. It's something that the locals will need to determine on their part and come to an agreement with the homeowners."

"I can see where the residents are coming from," Donovan said. "Before the project was started, they didn't canvas the neighborhood to see what the impact would be, and I think they should have done that."

Trustee Dorothy Moody said everyone has to participate to make the sewer system installation work.

"It just makes sense: You can' pick and choose," she continued. "I know some of them have systems that are working, but sooner or later they won't be working. We're trying to make it as easy on them as we can. But you have rules and you have to go by the rules."

Canty said it's up to the board to change the ordinance if they want to consider grandfathering in residents. "I've got to go by what's written in our ordinance," he said.

Canty said the township is trying to work with residents as much as possible. He understands the money is a financial hardship for some residents, but he said they're trying to fix a smelly, environmental situation.

"We've been trying to get sewers there for 40 years," Canty said.

"We had a major problem and we're trying to fix it," he said.

The Caseyville Township Sewer System meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Caseyville Township Hall, 10001 Bunkum Road in Fairview Heights.

Contact reporter Maria Hasenstab at mhasenstab@bnd.com or 618-239-2460.

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