Friday, July 29, 2016

Eminent Domain Was Possibility For Sewer Construction Project in Fort Thomas

Vernon Lane was drying out, much like the rest of northern Kentucky on Thursday afternoon after a torrential rainfall in the morning. SD1 says that private connections in some homeowners are illegal and must be fixed as part of a large sewer construction project. FTM file. 
A $1.6 million dollar Sanitation District 1 (SD1) project will impact close to 100 property owners in Fort Thomas in a project that could have required eminent domain to access private properties.

SD1 is addressing "illegal" connections of sanitary sewer laterals into the storm water system to gain compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency "clean water standards." SD1 will be installing new sanitary and storm sewer pipes on Vernon Lane; south of St. Nicholas Place; along Chalfonte Court; on Linden Court; south of Linden Avenue; and south of Tremont Avenue.

The "Vernon Lane outfall" was determined to be of high priority under SD1's initial studies back in 2007. The project will be extensive and will impact many. 

The first phase of the project was presented to Fort Thomas City Council in 2010 and a series of letters and door hangers were sent to property owners outlining smoke and dye testing results, inviting the public to meetings and asking homeowners to fill out questionnaires regarding flooding issues on their property. Twenty-five percent of the project's construction was completed in 2013.

“We explained the purpose of the project and what they needed to do on their property. It was a step-by-step guide to walk them through. We really wanted to understand what was going on in the community. There was an extensive amount of communication done with the Fort Thomas community and also the impact of the property owners," said Ralph Johnston, SD1’s in-house engineer, to the SD1 Board earlier this month.

Johnston gave a similar presentation to the SD1 board in September. "We had two remaining easements and at the time we were anticipating that we might end up have to go to condemnation," he said.

According to SD1 now, though, they have all the easements they need to carry the project forward.

SD1 Engineer, Ralph Johnston, at the July SD1 Board Meeting. 
"We are focusing on the overflows in people’s back yards, which is located within the Licking River Siphon drainage area. These are literally overflows where kids are playing and there are overflows downstream of this area and so the project will impact those in a positive way."

The torrential rainfall last night affected many in Northern Kentucky, soaking basements and inundating storm sewers with water. Vernon Lane was no different. Late into the afternoon on Thursday front yards were strewn with wet rugs and towels that were used to clean up from the copious amount of water.

Vernon resident, Chris Deinlein, said that he was lucky. "We only got a little bit of water, but some of our neighbors basements were completely flooded and there was a lot of overflow in some of the back yards as well."

The Vernon Lane area contributes to sanitary sewer overflows that occur when too much storm water enters the separate sanitary sewers and spills raw sewage out into backyards and streams. Separate sanitary sewers are only designed to carry wastewater, which then goes to a treatment plant for cleaning. The extra storm water can enter the sanitary sewer system either through cracks and defects in sewer pipes and manholes or driveway drains and downspouts, among other private connections, that are improperly hooked up directly to sanitary sewer pipes.

SD1 officials estimate that the sewers under study were constructed some time between 1930-1950.

"The Vernon Lane project will help reduce (these overflows) by replacing aging pipes and installing new public sewers," said Rachel Wells, a spokesperson for SD1. "The new sanitary and storm pipes will keep groundwater out of the sewer system and provide a place for storm water to go once private property owners disconnect their improper connections from the sanitary sewer pipes."

SD1 is paying for the construction of public sewer improvements in this phase of the project using a low-interest loan from the Kentucky Infrastructure Authority (KIA), however property owners will participate in a 50/50 cost share to connect the illicit downspout, roof and driveway connections. The cost share is a pilot program that SD1 is utilizing.

"This is a pilot project. We pay 50% of the project up to $2500," Johnston explained to the SD1 Board. "Downspouts are about $100-$200 for removal, but driveway drains can get very expensive so our net exposure for each location would be $2500. In some cases on Vernon there are recessed driveways, which are very difficult to get out. Homes are very close in Fort Thomas. It’s a beautiful neighborhood and residents take pride in their homes. We’ve done our best to pick the best technology for constructing this sewer while minimizing the disturbance to the properties, but it’s going to be a big impact."

Johnston said the average parcel would cost SD1 and property owners about $1,000.

That could be a tough sell to those property owners when it comes time to work and according to Johnston, some of the communication has resulted in "a mixed bag."

"We’ll bring this to the board but, do we do enforcement to achieve the compliance that we need? We’re not at that point yet. Right now we have willing participants. We’ve stopped the communication until we start the second phase and then we’ll ramp up and send letters out to remaining property owners," he said.

Bids are due on this project on August 5 and construction work will begin in September 2016 and continue until summer 2017. Once this work on the public sewer pipes is complete, SD1 will begin working with individual property owners to disconnect downspouts, driveway drains and other private connections from the sanitary sewers. Many of these private connections will be reattached to the new storm sewers SD1 will begin constructing in September.

There will be some road closures as the project commences and Fort Thomas Matters will be sure to update the residents of those closures.

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