Letters from city of Fresno about sewer hookups catch heat from county supervisors

The Fresno BeeMarch 4, 2014 

Six months ago, about 300 Fresno County residents on the city of Fresno's outskirts were warned by letter that they may soon be required to abandon their septic tanks and hook up to a city sewer system.

Nobody in Fresno County government knew the letters were sent, but it wasn't long before supervisors began hearing about it.

Fresno County supervisors heard from many of the same constituents Tuesday and voted to ensure any future letters sent to residents about hooking up to city sewers would originate from the county.

The board also agreed to work with the city on a comprehensive sewage hookup plan for unincorporated areas on the city's fringe, such as Fort Washington, Sunnyside and a number of neighborhoods that border new housing subdivisions.

Steve Aberle, who said he has not had a pay raise in six years, said he was told by a city official the hookup to his home in southeast Fresno would cost about $10,000.

"To me, this smacks of extortion," he said. "I don't have $10,000."

During the two-hour hearing other residents told supervisors that city housing developments were built and streets torn up next to their homes, but nobody suggested hooking up to sewers at that time.

Supervisors will return later this year with additional information about the city's plans.

But they also want to amend a 40-year-old ordinance that allows county residents five years to hook into city sewers from the date it's deemed necessary instead of three years.

Board chairman Andreas Borgeas also suggested a five-year trigger for hookups from the date a home changes ownership.

But until the city returns with its plans, he told residents to "stand down."

Fresno City Manager Bruce Rudd said the city will send out letters telling county residents to ignore the earlier letters.

But he reminded residents that nitrates emanating from septic systems can contaminate city wells. He pointed to the Figarden area, which had sewers installed nearly 40 years ago, as an area where nitrate issues have diminished.

"This is our aquifer, this is the water resource we use to support not only the unincorporated areas but those living in the city of Fresno," Rudd said.

City officials, he said, are worried that increased nitrate contamination will force the city to decontaminate wells or buy new well sites.

And, state rules also are looming that will require residents to hook into a sewer system if their septic tanks are not working properly, said Glen Allen, acting county environment health services director.

The state's rules will be multi-tiered and Alan Weaver, public works and planning director, said it's not clear exactly what they will say.

Supervisor Debbie Poochigian said a rule allowing properly working septic systems to remain in place seems reasonable.

"If my system goes belly up then we are going to have to address it," she said. "This is not like changing a light bulb, nobody wants to have a lousy septic tank."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6166, mbenjamin@fresnobee.com or @beebenjamin on Twitter.

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