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Archive for Monday, June 9, 2014

Lawrence homeowners may get free sewer repairs as part of new $20 million program

June 9, 2014

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It won't quite be like winning the lottery, but residents in eastern Lawrence soon may win some cash assistance to help fix their homes' sewer systems.

City-hired contractors have begun combing through a large portion of eastern Lawrence as part of an eight-year project designed to prevent rainwater from improperly entering the city's sewer system. The project is expected to total $20 million, and a good part of the money is scheduled to go toward making improvements at individual properties.

"Everything from the evaluation to the repairs will be done at no cost to the property owner," said Nick Hoyt, an engineer with the city who is overseeing the project.

City officials, however, are looking for specific types of repairs to make. Hoyt said some of the more common repairs will include fixing sump pumps that are improperly hooked into the city's sewer system; fixing downspouts that are improperly flowing into the city's sewer system; ensuring driveway drains are properly functioning; and fixing portions of exterior sewer pipe that are allowing storm water to enter the system.

The city is undertaking the project because the amount of rainwater that enters the city's sewer system — and subsequently runs through the city's waste water treatment plant — is becoming problematic. The city previously has estimated it may need to spend $40 million or more to upgrade the pipes, pump station and other infrastructure in the sewer system to deal with all the storm water in a manner approved by the Environmental Protection Agency. Now, city leaders are hoping to spend about half that amount on a program that aims to reduce the amount of water seeping into the system in the first place.

The first neighborhood slated for improvements is an area that generally has 23rd Street as its southern boundary, 12th Street as its northern boundary, Haskell Avenue as its western boundary and the city limits as its eastern boundary. The city also is working in a small area just west of Kansas University's Memorial Stadium.

In each of the next seven years, the city expects to tackle at least one additional area per year. At the end of the program, most areas east of Iowa Street will have been part of the program, city officials estimate.

The program is voluntarily for homeowners. Hoyt said technically there are city codes that make it illegal for homeowners to drain their sump pumps or downspouts into the city's sewer system, for example. But he said the city has chosen not to use its legal authority to try to force homeowners to repair the issues at their own expense.

"We are not trying to use the force of law," Hoyt said. "We think it will be cheaper and quicker if we just pay for the repairs."

The city has negotiated predetermined prices with seven plumbing companies in the area. After city-hired consultants determine what projects are eligible for repair, the city will determine whether it is worth the city's money to have the problems fixed. If so, homeowners will get to choose the contractor from the list of seven and will get to back out of the program if they don't like how the city is proposing to fix the problem.

Hoyt said the city won' t ask homeowners to pay for any portion of the approved repairs. The repairs are expected to cost the city from about $600 to about $4,000 per household, depending on the problem.

Consultants with TREKK Design Group already have been in the neighborhood conducting "smoke tests," which give an indication of where the sewer system is leaky. Consultants will be reaching out to homeowners to schedule an appointment to do a more detailed evaluation of a property. Hoyt said the outreach will involve consultants knocking on some doors, but also will include door-hangers and letters. People who want to see if their property qualifies can call a city hotline at 832-3003.

Jeanette Klamm, a spokeswoman with the city's utilities department, said the city-hired consultants won't be looking for any other code violations — such as evidence of over occupancy or other problems — when they evaluate a property.

"This is just about this specific program," Klamm said.

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