Council moves sewer project forward amid cost concerns; Some residents wary over increasing project price

Published 10:22 am Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Austin City Council is set to move forward once more on a sewer project for the Turtle Creek I development, but some residents weren’t as thrilled about a sanitary sewer upgrade now that costs have risen.

City officials are looking to rebid a sewer construction project for a group of 28 properties recently annexed into Austin after the city failed to receive offers last summer.

Yet the council and residents learned during a meeting Monday the cost to put in a sewer will run homeowners about $26,000, up from a projected $22,000 last year. In addition, adding water services could push the cost up even higher and homeowners who want to also get asphalt on Fourth Avenue, Sixth Avenue and 30th Street could pay up to $43,735 for all parts of the project.

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The city is securing funding to cut homeowner costs by almost half, but some residents aren’t pleased with increasing costs.

“I’m going to be working until I’m 90 to pay for this,” area resident Sue Register told the council. “I was actually getting ready to retire. Now I’m going to have to pay $400 a month.”

Register told the council she was fine with the project to put in a sewer system in the neighborhood, located on the west side of Interstate 90 near Oakland Avenue West, when a third-party engineering firm first estimated lower sewer system costs. Yet she and other residents said the new costs were too high.

Starting out

Homeowners approached the city last year seeking annexation to get the city’s sewer and water services, after property owners received notice from Mower County that a majority of their sewage systems weren’t compliant to state code. About 16 homes are classified as an eminent public health threat as their sewage leaks above ground.

The council formally approved the annex in late 2013, and work went under way to hook those residents up to the city’s sewer and water grid.

Public Works Director Steven Lang gave a presentation on the Turtle Creek I projects last year, showing the sewer hookup would cost about $22,900 per property for the sewer project, and about $9,500 to install the water main in the neighborhood. The project could include a potential street paving project for about $4,600 and a water service hookup for about $1,500, should residents wish to have that included.

Yet after consulting with Austin Utilities, city officials found the cost to complete those projects would rise.

The city is also pursuing Point Source Implementation Grant money for the sewer project, which could cover up to half of the sewer costs. City staff are also giving Turtle Creek I residents a little more leeway when it comes to hooking up to the city’s systems. Residents can either pay the assessment cost for planned sewer work all at once, over the next 15 years, or wait to hook up to the sewer system.

The two homes with compliant sewer systems can wait up to five years before hooking up to the city.

City staff are using an assessment model with Turtle Creek I residents rather than its recently designed sewer access fee charge as the city began working on the project before the fee was in place.

The city will meet with homeowners twice more in coming months after staff factors in grant money on the project. Once homeowners have a final cost breakdown, they’ll vote once again to support or oppose the sewer project, as well as a proposed water system hookup.

The council will then decide whether to begin the sewer project. However, Lang pointed out if the city doesn’t go through with the sewer project, those homeowners with properties considered an eminent public health threat would likely face fines from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Mayor Tom Stiehm said sewer projects have been difficult for the city and for homeowners in the past.

“Since I’ve been here for eight years, these annexations have been the worst to work on,” Stiehm told the audience. “Sometimes they don’t come out fairly but there’s no other way to do these things.”