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Rain delays 10-year Old Southwest sewer project

Monday, June 16, 2008 | 8:03 p.m. CDT; updated 1:20 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — When Linda and Charles Snider look out their living room window on the corner of Westwood Avenue and Maupin Street, they see two familiar roads reduced to uneven expanses of gravel, with muddy puddles and piles of pipes nearby.

It has been this way since January.

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“First they took down the necessary trees and then they tore up the streets,” Linda Snider said.

The Sniders are among 53 homeowners in the Old Southwest neighborhood who will get new sewers and storm pipes. It also means they are one household of many whose lawns have been turned into muddy construction sites.

The contruction is the final step of a 10-year effort to get old, private sewer lines upgraded to new, public lines.

The neighbors filed a petition to start the project in 1998. Eventually the city approved the project and budgeted money, and work crews broke ground on Jan. 19.

The project was expected to be finished in May, but excessive rain has delayed the process by two more months. The new deadline is projected for mid-August.

“I know it’s been a long time and we’ve been out there awhile, but we’re moving as fast as we possibly can (with the weather),” said Matt Hawkins, project manager for the concrete division of Columbia Curb and Gutter, the lead contractor on the project. “It really just has to dry up enough so we don’t have to damage residents’ yards more than we have to.”

The private sewer lines being upgraded are the original pipes from the early 1900s, when the houses were first built. The older pipes are four inches in diameter and are made of clay, which causes them to break and leak easily. When the original pipe was being laid, residents had an option of installing private sewer lines or having the city install a public sewer line.

The city has since replaced many older public sewer lines with new 8-inch pipes.

According to Steve Hunt, manager of environmental services for Columbia, as more people built homes in the city, many took the cheaper option of installing a private line. It was also more convenient for people to connect onto to a neighbor’s sewer line than to hook up with city sewers. But the additional flow created more pressure for the one pipe that neighbors had latched onto and increased chances of breakage and backups.

In 1993, the main line under the Sniders’ home collapsed. Because their lines are hooked onto one another, they could only guess that somewhere, several streets away, someone’s basement had backed up because the Sniders were not the ones who suffered the consequence.

At that time, Charles Snider fixed the main line himself and paid the costs. Now, in his older age, he worries that if it happens again he will not be able to fix it. This is why he is eager to have a public sewer line, which the city would fix and pay for if another incident occurs.

“I wish they could have done it six years ago,” Linda Snider said. “It just makes sense to have our city own and maintain our sewers.”

Since construction started in January, the Sniders have not had sidewalks, their garden has been dug up and they haven’t had access to their backyard shed. Linda Snider said she hopes she will have sidewalks again by July when she is scheduled to have foot surgery.

“Most projects don’t take this long, but most problems aren’t this big,” Hunt said. “(The rain) is pretty much affecting every project across the city.”

Off West Broadway, two large bright orange signs that read ‘closed for work’ have blocked off the entrances to Westwood and Edgewood Avenues since January.

Hunt said that this is the biggest project the city has done in his nine years of employment.

Remy Wagner lives a few doors down Maupin Street from the Sniders. Although she is trying her best not to let the construction bother her, she is close to breaking point.

“We would tolerate some inconvenience for the good of the neighborhood, but it just has gone on for so long,” Wagner said. “I used to have such confidence in the city, but I never dreamed that this project would take so long and be so disruptive.”

Wagner has a large mud path along the side of her house where her lawn used to be. Red bricks are ripped out of the front walkway and piled on top of what is left. Although she now has a new curb, a gravel ditch replaces the spot where her sidewalk once was. Next door, a children’s tree house has been pushed aside and giant mud tracks remain from where the tractor rolled through.

The project is about 60 percent complete, according to an e-mail from Jill Stedem, public information specialist for the Columbia Public Works Department. Hunt also said that all city construction projects are about two to three months behind schedule because of the rain.

Hunt said the project will cost about $500,000 to $900,000 for new sanitary sewers,and $450,000 for new storm water pipes.

When the project started, there was an agreement that the property owners would pay half the cost, dependant on the size of their lot, and the city would pay half, Hunt said. However, the Columbia City Council approved a policy in March that relieves homeowners from paying the cost to replace private collector lines, according to an earlier report from the Missourian. That policy will apply to the 53-home sewer project in the Old Southwest.

The Sniders were originally notified that they would eventually have to pay around $4,000. Now, like everyone else affected by the sewer project, they won’t have to pay anything.

Hunt said that when the project is complete, the contractor will be responsible for repairing the damages to people’s lawns, driveways and other general reparations.

Whatever the cost, affected residents are eager to have their lawns and roads back in working order.

“I keep trying to tell myself that it will pass but it is far more trying than we expected,” Wagner said. “Next year, hopefully we all will have beautiful gardens and we will put this all behind us.”


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