COLUMBIA - About 35 residents from the Westmount Neighborhood Association met Thursday night at the Columbia Public Library to discuss three agenda items: private sewer upgrades, the Garth Trail connector and an invitation to merge with the Historic Old Southwest Neighborhood Association.
Lindsey Schaefer, a sanitary sewer engineer with the Columbia Public Works Department, and Nathan Runyan, an engineering specialist with the department, gave a Powerpoint presentation to show the city's plan to eventually upgrade all the private sewer lines to city sewers.
A map was included to show where the private sewers were located, but it was incomplete because the older sewers were never built to city code and the builders never checked with the city. So the location of many private sewers is a mystery until employees of the Public Works Department go to homes and collect data.
Schaefer and Runyan encouraged people to sign a petition if they were interested in upgrading their sewers. They said that this would push their project toward the top of the wait list, which already has about 10 to 12 projects on it.
After 10 years of petitioning, planning and budgeting, Garth Sewer District No. 148 is close to beginning construction. Schaefer and Runyan said they had 14 signatures from an area around West Lathrop Road and Thilly Avenue. About 12 more people signed the petition at the meeting.
"The sooner you get your name on a petition, the sooner we can start construction," Schaefer said.
Runyan roughly estimated that residents could see construction in less than five years if temporary possession of the easements and the general planning process go smoothly. Because of an earlier ordinance passed by the City Council, the city would pay 100 percent of the project, and Schaefer said that their goal is to put everyone's yard back the way they found it.
"We're especially sensitive to the Old Southwest," Schaefer said. "We'll do our best to preserve the character of your neighborhood."
Next on the agenda was an update on the plans for the proposed Garth Trail that would connect the Grasslands neighborhood to Garth Avenue. Fourth Ward City Councilman Jerry Wade was at the meeting to sum up what had happened at the City Council's "special meeting" for approving projects.
Wade said that the Garth connector didn't get approved because Westmount's representative committee is still working with GetAbout Columbia to find different designs and locations for the trail.
Wade made it clear that the money for the Garth connector will still be available if and when an agreement is reached. In such a case, the project would have to go back to the City Council to get approval before construction could begin.
Lastly, Hank Ottinger, president of the Historic Old Southwest Neighborhood Association, said members of his association are in favor of merging with the Westmount Neighborhood Association, which would call for Westmount to officially dissolve.
While Ottinger was putting no pressure on the Westmount Association, some residents who thought it was a good idea said there is strength in numbers. The Historic Old Southwest Association already has an active official board and an electronic message list. Opposing residents said that merging together would make them lose the small "neighborhood feel" and, instead, become a part of "city section."
Other residents said that there is no need to rush into a commitment with the Historic Old Southwest Association, and waiting a year or two, at least until the Garth Trail connector issue is taken care of, wouldn't hurt.
No decisions were made on merging the neighborhoods, and Ken Schneeberger, who organized the meeting, said he will try to obtain a copy of the bylaws of the Historic Old Southwest neighborhood to gather more information and call another meeting in the future.