BEND, Ore. - People living in southeast Bend's Old Farm District are facing a big problem two decades in the making: a potentially sizable bill to connect to the recently completed sewer line near their homes.
In 1998, the city of Bend annexed the Old Farm neighborhood. Now, the city wants to get rid of all the home septic tanks in that area and connect houses to the brand-new sewer line, but that's not cheap.
About 600 homeowners may have to pay up to $25,000 -- an advisory committee's proposed cap -- to connect to the new sewer line, depending on what city councilors decide.
The proposal from the city's Septic to Sewer Advisory Committee for homes in this area could put folks in a tight spot, including Michael Lueck, who has lived on Camelot Place for 10 years.
"These are our life savings accounts, our houses. So why are we being punished for having been here 10 years and having equity in our houses?" Lueck said Monday.
The completion of Bend's sewer line project invoked a state law that says any home within 300 feet of an operating sewer system is required to hook up to it and decommission their septic system.
City Councilor Bill Moseley said he's had residents call him crying, worried that they aren't going to be able to pay the proposed fee and could lose their home.
"We didn't do any planning in the last 20 years," Moseley said. "We didn't do any planning in the last three years, when we could have been collecting incremental amounts to save up for this problem. So to me, this is just another sign of the city being behind on it's growth."
The 300-foot rule has a domino effect, because when one home connects to the system, the next is closer and as a result is required to connect.
That is why the committee is proposing a cap of $25,000 per home, so one home isn't hit with a $100,000 charge and another only charged a few thousand.
"The state doesn't have a lot of money that it can put toward it, so our options are very limited at this point. But penalizing this neighborhood I don't think is the right answer," Moseley said.
"Even if we charge every one of these residents and all the other people all the other people on septic, the city's tab is still $150 million to connect all the homes to the sewer system," he added.
Despite the limited options, residents still would like to see the price tag lowered.
Lueck said, "I realize most people haven't been here since '97, '98, and they're not going to want to have to pay for our plight either. But it's a public utility. They shouldn't make private citizens pay out of pocket for it."
"They need to come up with a plan," he said. "They need to go to the state level, to the federal level. They need to look for loans to pay for this themselves."
No decisions will be made when residents get to address councilors on Wednesday at City Hall from 4:30-6:30 p.m. — but a decision is expected in the next few months.
For more information: https://www.bendoregon.gov/government/se-bend-septic-to-sewer-advisory-committee.