Council vetoes bill on septic assessments after residents complain of odors Construction costs exceed estimates HARFORD COUNTY

September 12, 1993|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Staff Writer

After more than an hour of hearing residents complain of foul odors and unreasonable sewerage charges, the County Council rejected a bill that would have assessed some residents more than $240 a year for septic systems installed in six Harford County neighborhoods.

The council, which could have taken a month to decide on the bill after Tuesday's public hearing, voted 7-0 against the assessments shortly after the hearing ended.

"It's a health hazard," said Agnes Ellis, a Dembytown Road resident, of the septic system installed in her neighborhood. She said there have been odors in her house and yard since she hooked up to the system more than two years ago.

"I don't know where the problem is, but I do know this never occurred during the whole time we had our private septic system," she said.

The legislation grew out of a county Public Works Department plan begun in 1988 to use federal and state grants to defray the costs of installing septic systems in six neighborhoods not served by the county's conventional water and sewer lines.

Jackie Ludwig, chief of water and sewerage for the county, said the grants, which fund "innovative and alternative designs," were a means of making improvements affordable to residents in areas with severe septic problems.

The project involved 400 properties in six neighborhoods: Swan Creek, north of Aberdeen; Forest Greens in Perryman; Bush Road in Abingdon; and the Edgewood area neighborhoods of Red Maple Drive, Clearview, and Dembytown/Hanson.

The neighborhoods were chosen for their high rate of failing septic systems, Mrs. Ludwig said.

Early in the process, residents were given an estimate of what their share of the cost of the grant-assisted project would be. But in four of the six areas, Mrs. Ludwig said, the local share of the construction costs was significantly greater than estimated.

In Swan Creek, where the property owner's proposed share of $237 a year for 25 years represents almost a 60 percent increase over the original estimate of $149, costs rose because an unexpectedly large amount of soil and roadbed had to be replaced.

Mrs. Ludwig said grant money cannot be used to reimburse unanticipated construction problems.

Similar problems were encountered in other areas. "Bush Road was in terrible shape," Mrs. Ludwig reminded the council. "We came back to council three times to approve additional costs there."

In the end, she said, state and federal grants were able to cover 79 percent of the $3.9 million project. The remainder was paid by the county, which will in turn bill residents, through annual assessments.

The sewerage project consists of a system of holding tanks for solid waste and drain pipes to handle overflow. The county is responsible for periodically pumping out the tanks and transporting the waste to a sewage treatment facility.

Installation of all six systems was completed by July 1991, and residents were scheduled to start paying a 25-year assessment in July 1994.

But residents say they're not about to pay for something that doesn't work.

Gene Dawson, who lives on Holman Road next to a sewage pumping station, says that foul odors have enveloped his home since the system was constructed in the Clearview neighborhood three years ago. He says the stench last spring was so strong he couldn't open the windows.

"You can still smell sewage and ammonia. We had the same problems when we had failing septic systems, but now we're paying 40 percent more than what was originally estimated for the service."

Clearview residents, whose share was estimated to be $168 a year, are being asked to pay $232.

Mrs. Ellis, the Dembytown Road resident, said she and her late husband had a septic tank installed on their property in 1971 and had no problems with it in 20 years.

Now, after allowing the county to destroy their septic tank and build a new one in her backyard, odors invade her home through her air conditioning system.

When she complained to Public Works officials, she said, "They came out to the property and pumped out the tank and gave me bTC a cake of deodorant to put under my front porch."

Mrs. Ludwig confirmed that there are odors in the Dembytown Road area. But she said that only 50 percent of the property owners have adopted the new system and that at least some of the odor in the neighborhood is from failing septic systems of those who have not hooked up to the new system.

Public Works chief William Baker said engineers are also aware of odors at the new pumping stations in several neighborhoods and are considering two methods of reducing the problem.

One process would use pressurized charcoal filters to reduce odors; the other is a soil filtration system that uses mulch.

Mrs. Ludwig said both types of air-filtration systems would be installed before legislation on assessments is reintroduced to the council.

The County Code requires the Department of Public Works to establish the assessment rates and the County Council to approve them.

Despite residents' concerns over the cost of the new systems, Mrs. Ludwig said it would have cost individual property owners more than $1,000 per year if they had connected to the county's conventional water and sewer system.

This was an affordable alternative in areas where inadequate soil was causing at least 50 percent of existing septic systems to fail, she said.

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