Stanford resident raises stink over sewer issue

Published 12:03 pm Thursday, May 30, 2019

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STANFORD — For 27 years, John Stevens has lived at his home on Logan Avenue enjoying all the conveniences of modern day life, including safe drinking water and another basic and important amenity – the town’s sewer system, which manages and cleans wastewater.

Since late April, however, the Stevens family has been living more like a family out of the 1940’s, which had to scoop buckets of water from an outside well for drinking water and water to cook and bathe with and, when it came time to use the restroom, headed to the family’s outhouse.

While the Stevens family, which includes John and his wife Mindy, hasn’t installed an outhouse on their property, they have had to leave home for restroom and showering needs as they have had no sewer service for the past month. The lack of water and sewer has forced the family to make a temporary move to Danville until the issue can be resolved.

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“Unfortunately for the past 26 days, we have not had any use of our sewer. We have not even been able to brush our teeth without having to catch the water,” John Stevens said Thursday during a special called meeting of the Stanford City Council. “The short point of the story is … with all the evidence given the sewer and water division marked the sewer taps. Based on their camera running in the city sewer there is only two taps and neither one of those taps go to our house, which indicates when this project with the new line was done in 2011 that we were not hooked up.”

“I pointed this out to the mayor (Scottie Ernst), to Jonathan Baker, the attorney, to the city director, Ryan (Owens), and that was nine or 10 days ago and I still have not heard anything or gotten any help. I’ve done a lot of work there digging to prove this. We would really love to be able to use our sewer again, so I’ve come before you just asking for your help.”

Just reacquiring use of the city sewer system was not the only concern Stevens brought before the council. After having dug up his yard to try to see where the problem lies on his property, he said he realized the issue extended beyond his property line

“The other issue is just for the community as a whole. What we have been asked to do in order to try to find the problem and to fix the issue was to come beyond our property line. And I’m told that our sewer and water division has this ordinance that says that they are only responsible for the tap,” he said. “The tap is the fitting that connects you to the city sewer. In some instances that’s okay because at some places in town the city sewer line is in the back of your property, right in your yard. Well, that ordinance written that way would be applicable there. But you’ve got some places – Main Street, down Logan Avenue just for one side of the street, the side we live on, that the city sewer line is 12 feet beyond our property. Through concrete, now, because it has that basin plus a big 24-inch corrugated tile that you have to hand dig under it in order to get to it. And our line is 5-½ feet down because it comes out of the basement.
So a lot of work has been done to show that there is no tap there for us.”

Ella Mae Curlis, Stanford council member, questioned Stevens on whether he had dug as far as needed to find out where the problem lies.

“I’ve been up there several times before,” she said. “When I was up there, you had not reached the main or followed your sewer line all the way down. Did you follow your sewer line all the way down?”

“I took it to the point where I knew that I was not on either sewer tap that was indicated that we had,” Stevens responded.

Curlis said that for the brick house next door to Stevens (former Freeman house) the house (sewer) goes out the side to Clover Court.

“The gas meter does,” said Stevens. To which Curlis answered, “So does the sewer.”

“That is not correct,” said Stevens.

“Well, then all the maps in the city are wrong then,” she said.

Council member Naren James interrupted the discussion between Curlis and Stevens by asking Mayor Scottie Ernst if he had investigated Stevens’ claims.

“Yes. I’ve been up there several times and talked to John.The water department has been up there several times. Their take is … and I have compassion for them. I feel sorry for them. But I have been told by the water department, Jonathan Baker and also I think Mindy might have contacted the attorney general and the attorney general had talked to Jonathan and also the Kentucky League of Cities attorney. Their ruling is that a citizen is responsible for their sewer line going to the tap. The take that I took on it is that it’s their responsibility to take it to the tap,” Ernst said. “I was there when he had cut away some concrete and he had a 90 degree angle on his sewer line coming from his house. And that is where he stopped digging. Is that correct, John?”

“Yes,” Stevens answered.

“The water company marked two spots on the concrete,” Ernst said. “One, the way I understand it, is for his neighbor behind him. Her water line runs on his property. And then the second tap that they’ve marked is his tap. That’s what they’re saying. That is his tap,”

“And that is incorrect,” said Stevens.
“Let me say this,” Stevens continued. “One phone call to Vicki Freeman (former neighbor) because she paid the $600 to have that sewer tap put in that you all are saying is mine. I know it’s wrong because I watched George and Mike Bertram put it in.”

Stevens said Freeman had added two bathrooms to her house long before the 2011 sewer project and that she had the Bertrams come to put in a line to connect those bathrooms. “She was having issues with her sewer line coming out of the basement because it’s an old clay tile line that goes from her basement to the city sewer.”

“I’m hearing that no one is believing those taps are not mine,” said Stevens. “I’ve been there 27 years and never had an issue until now. I can’t explain what’s happened the last eight years but my best guess at it would be, with my background and experience, would be that the old clay tile city sewer line must have had some left there and our waste has been going in it. That or it’s going under the ground somewhere.”

Curlis’ voiced bewilderment as to how Stevens could have had proper sewer services for eight years after the 2011 sewer project and not been hooked up to the city sewer.

“I’ve been in this business (water/sewer) 42 years and I’ve never seen a sewer line exist for eight years that is not hooked up,” she said. “It’s impossible because there’s nowhere for it to go. It would just keep backing up in your house.”

“What was explained to me and I think you explained it too, is years ago, whoever owned the house before, put a bathroom in the basement. The sewer line was not low enough. In other words, the sewer was higher than the basement. So instead of putting a pump they come out of the house, made a turn of a 90 degree and went down the street to make the sewer tap so it would fall. Is that not right.?

Again, Stevens disagreed with Curlis.

“That is incorrect,” he said. “It was a house built with a basement and the sewer line comes from under the foundation. Therefore, it had to go down the street to get the right fall before it could ever connect in. I’ve been there 27 years. That house was built in 1950. It’s always been there (bathroom). Washer, sink, commode, shower. Always. Nothing added.”

Before any further discussion, Curlis pointed out that Stevens may be standing in front of the wrong people.

“Well, the way I feel about it, and I don’t know how everybody else feels about it, is he’s talking to the wrong board. We have nothing to do with water and sewer,” she said.

“We have this unique situation. We own it (water/sewer), but we don’t manage it,” James said. “He seems to have exhausted all his recourse with the level of the water district.”
“He hasn’t been to the … Have you been to the (water board) meeting?” Curlis asked of Stevens.

Stevens related that he had talked personally to one member of the water board, Jack Withrow, and that all he had said was, “I’m so sorry. There’s nothing I can do.”

“I am not hooked up to this new pvc line,” Stevens stated.

“I sympathize with John but there are three members of the water board. They need to take it before the water board,” Curlis said.

As talk turned to the need for the Stevens family to present their problem to the water board, the question arose as to the whereabouts of the maps showing the water and sewer system lines.

Council member Ronnie Deatherage quickly raised his hand, which held a map, saying, “I have a map from AGE.”

“We’ve asked for those for 26 days now,” said Mindy Stevens.

As John Stevens, council members James and Curlis and mayor Ernst looked over the map, Deatherage explained what he had been told by Doug Gooch of AGE Engineering.

“What they are telling me is that no new pipes were put down on your side of the road (2011). They told me nothing new was put down through here,” said Deatherage, who had spent the day tracking down the map. “They also told me that the two taps. The first was for the one behind your house, the second one was yours. The third one they said came …”

“But as far as anyone can tell me no new sewer pipes were put in through there. I’m just telling you what I’ve been told.”

As discussion of the map ended, Stevens reiterated that he is not hooked up to the water line. “I am not hooked on. We were not hooked up when the project was done. I can’t help if someone made an error eight years ago.”

“For some reason he was never hooked to the sewer line. That is a water company issue, is it not?” asked council member Dalton Miller.

City Attorney John Hackley concurred that the Stevens family’s recourse is to take the issue before the water board.

“Technically, I’m not sure there’s not anything really that can be done by the city council because they have an administrative agency that handles all these issues. When you exhaust your administrative remedies before them, there has to be a public procedure that probably involves court,” he said.

With the city council determining that Stevens has not exhausted his recourse with the water board on the water and sewer issue, James made a motion that the council call the local water board, which meets the second Monday of each month, to have a special meeting set up as soon as possible for Stevens to present his problem to the board.

The motion passed unanimously and Ernst was to request a meeting be scheduled for this week.

“That would be much appreciated,” Stevens said. “Thank you for your time.”