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Portland Commissioner Dan Saltzman apologizes to Southeast Portland residents over Bungled Sewer Fee Program

Portland Commissioner Dan Saltzman apologized to Southeast Portland residents, at the Brooklyn Neighborhood general meeting Wednesday evening, for a sewer repair project that went awry.

As part of a citywide effort to build additional public sewers, the Bureau of Environmental Services sent letters in June to 127 property owners in Southeast and Northeast Portland.

The letters alerted the property owners that their sewer did not conform to the city’s plumbing and sewer codes and they would have to pay to bring it into compliance.

If you have received one of these letters and you need help in understanding what your options are you can contact the Brooklyn Help Line at 503/241-4540.

Follow this link for a video of a KATU TV report.

http://portlandcitycenter.katu.com/news/politics/portland-residents-get-stuck-steep-sewer- connection-costs/442136

The repair work, according to the letters, would cost some of the property owners tens of thousands of dollars. They were given until July 1 to agree to the work, before the rate was increased.

All of which came as an unwelcome surprise for many property owners, some of whom had no idea that their sewer didn’t meet code.

“You just hit us in the gut with this,” one woman told Saltzman, who oversees the bureau of environmental services.

So, Saltzman acknowledged at a meeting in the Brooklyn neighborhood that the bureau had communicated poorly with residents.

“We’re stepping back to re-evaluate a lot of the issues surrounding non-compliant sewers,” Saltzman said. “I think we’ve communicated the issue in a worrisome manner.”

Now the bureau is beginning a new public outreach effort intended to explain the sewer program to property owners who may need to make repairs. Saltzman has also created a small neighborhood-based advisory committee to help guide the city in its efforts.

The first step in the outreach effort was at the Brooklyn Action Corps meeting at the Loaves & Fishes Center on Southeast Milwaukie Avenue, where Saltzman and others answered questions.

City staffers will also go to neighborhood and business association meetings and will be available by phone to walk residents through the program. The July 1 deadline has been waived.

The crux of the problem is that some properties in Portland violate city code in one of two ways, according to Dean Marriott, the director of the bureau of environmental services.

Some have “party-line” sewers, in which the sewer line from one property crosses a neighbor’s property – without permission — to connect to the public sewer.

Other properties feature private sewers that stretch out into to the street before connecting with the public sewer.

The city estimates there are about 2,000 such non-conforming sewers in Portland that need to be fixed. In the past three years, roughly 50 property owners have paid to have the problem corrected.

Private contractors or city crews can fix the sewer connection. But homeowners are liable for the cost.  For a 5,000-square-foot lot, the work would cost $9,150. Bigger lots cost more. The city subsidizes the program and offers loan programs to help property owners pay for the work.

Reuben Deumling, the president of the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association, received a letter in June that said he had a non-conforming sewer. The letter suggested that it would cost him $6,100 to fix it.

“I had many reactions,” Deumling said. “None of them were positive.”

Deumling is now part of Saltzman’s advisory committee. He wants to see more input from the public and better communication from the city. Deumling questions whether every non-conforming sewer is really a problem that needs to be fixed.

And, like others at the meeting on Wednesday night, he wonders if the cost of the sewer work can be shared, possibly with rate-payers across the city.

“That’s one of the things we’re going to take a look at,” Saltzman said. “What is the appropriate cost-sharing?”

Stephen Beaven….. The Oregonian Thursday, July 28, 2011, 4:15 PM

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