Thursday, September 20, 2007

A Saga of Sewage, Silt, and City Responsibility

Back in 1998, Jenney Romine reported that raw sewage from a pipe behind her home leaked down the hill, down her driveway, down Trenton Boulevard, and into Scull Creek as it flows through Wilson Park. The matter is still in litigation, but it can serve as a lesson to reveal how local government invokes different principles for residents in different neighborhoods of the city.

In 2004, Greg Boettcher, Fayetteville’s director of water and wastewater operations, finally acknowledged that sewage from two houses located uphill from Romine’s home is flushing down the steep hillside, and Doug Szenher of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality said raw sewage leaking onto the ground is an enforceable violation of state health standards. When asked later if the cleanup of the property could be done by city staff, Bob Davis, the next director of water and wastewater, told members of the Fayetteville City Council Water and Sewer Committee, "I’m not sure they’re trained to deal with this amount of raw sewage."

In 2005, Northwest Arkansas Times employees visited Romine’s property and found a pool of raw sewage collecting in her back yard, a few feet downhill from where three sewer lines converge. The sewage apparently oozes over a retaining wall and collects in her carport before it flows down her driveway into the street. "Swarms of gnats above the puddle give the air a gray tint and the back yard has a scent similar to the Paul R. Noland Wastewater Treatment Plant." David Jurgens, water and wastewater maintenance superintendent at the time, said the city is not responsible for the problem, because it "is not and has never been a city-owned line.”

City Attorney Kit Williams is adamant that the sewer snafu is on private property, that the city is not responsible for sewer problems on private property, and that such problems are the responsibility of the private landowner to correct at their own expense. Fourth Circuit Judge Mary Ann Gunn last week said there are enough facts in dispute over the raw sewage dumped on Romine’s property to continue litigating whether David Jurgens acted with conscious indifference. The City is still fighting that and will appeal, delaying a final resolution even longer.

Jenney Romine is single parent on a fixed income living in an 80-year old home in Ward Two, wondering how a blind person with breast cancer can afford to fight City Hall. Too bad she isn't a member of the prestigious Boardwalk Property Owners Association in Ward One, where some city officials are saying it is the City's responsibility to award a $70,000 no-bid contract with taxpayer money to dredge silt from the residents' recreational lake on private property.

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