City Flushes Sewer Ordinance Revision, Progress Backed Up
The City Council voted July 5 not to change the sewer ordinance.
Ruth Costello said she was disappointed but not surprised that the City Council on July 5 denied her request to revise its sewer ordinance.
Costello has been without sewer service since May 14, when a collapsed sewer line caused a backup into her Lombard Drive home.
According to the ordinance, she is required to pay for repairs because the damaged line connecting her home to the city’s sewer main under Barlina Road is considered her responsibility.
While many of these sewer laterals are eight to 10 feet underground, some are deeper–including Costello’s which is 15 feet underground and therefore more costly to repair.
“This is a 21-foot sewer with a dozen or more laterals at least connecting to that main,” said Public Works Director Victor Ramirez.
Costello faces shelling out an estimated $17,500 for the repairs, which will include digging up Barlina Road to reach the damaged lateral. The city estimates the road will need to be closed for two days while the repairs take place.
Costello had appealed to the city, asking it reconsider homeowner responsibility for deeply buried sewer lines such as hers. Perhaps a cost-sharing provision could be added to the ordinance with payment plan options, or preferably have the city absorb the costs of repairs in those rare instances.
Costello suggested sewer rates could be increased to create a fund that would pay for these repairs.
“The reality of this is, is that this can happen to anybody,” she said. “It’s not fair to ask people to pay for repairs under a city road.”
She added that there are many people on her street who have lost jobs or are elderly who could not pay for such an expense in this economy.
“Their homes would be foreclosed on,” she said.
While the City Council was sympathetic to her predicament and agreed to investigate her situation, it opted to leave the ordinance as is on the premise the city doesn’t have the financial resources to take on the expense of failed sewer laterals that always have been the homeowner’s responsibility.
“That is frightful for the city,” said Mayor Aaron Shepley. “All taxpayers in Crystal Lake would be responsible for the burden.”
It’s not just future liability the city would face, but residents who have lived under the current ordinance might want to be reimbursed for past repairs they undertook in the name of fairness, Shepley said.
“If we open this door, it will break us. Period,” he said.
Shepley also wasn’t supportive of adopting a policy of looking at deep sewer lateral failures on a one-by-one basis.
“When you make policy decisions based on exceptions, you get exceptionally bad law,” he said.
Council members Jeff Thorson, Brett Hopkins and Carolyn Shofield wanted to investigate options and solutions and find out how other municipalities handle similar situations.
City Manager Gary Mayerhofer offered to get additional information on how Wilmette and Winnetka provide cost-sharing options for homeowners with deep lateral sewers, but Shepley nixed the idea.
“It doesn’t matter what Wilmette or Winnetka did or didn’t do – it doesn’t apply to our situation,” he said.
Meanwhile, Costello waits for the city to determine when and how her problem will be resolved.
While she hasn’t had another sewer backup, being disconnected from the sewer main means whatever she drains or flushes goes into the ground under Barlina Road, said Rick Sperando, president of Black Diamond.
“And that means it goes into the groundwater in Crystal Lake,” he said.
Sperando said his application for a permit to make repairs was stalled by the city in order to investigate alternatives to digging up Barlina Road.
“The fact that this is taking so long, there’s something wrong with this,” he said. “Where is the customer service?”