Austin Sewer Battle Goes to Court

Posted at: 01/22/2013 10:41 PM
Updated at: 01/22/2013 10:45 PM
By: John Doetkott

(ABC 6 News) -- A fierce debate that for years has pitted the city of Austin against its own residents will finally see its day in court Wednesday.

A judge will begin hearing lawsuits filed by a group of homeowners who say the city is overcharging each of them by thousands of dollars for something most don't want or even need.

When part of Lansing Township was annexed to become part of Austin back in 2009, residents faced a number of new regulations, including a requirement that they use the city's sewer system.

But it's a task easier said than done.

Under a city assessment, it would cost residents around $15,000 apiece for each parcel of land that requires a new sewer.

It's a price opponents say greatly outweighs the benefits.

“Some had two or three lots and they were assessed $15,000 and in one case even $45,000 and they don't feel that their lots or their houses are even worth that,” said Jim Davis who filed a lawsuit against the project.

That's why about 23 people are suing the city, saying officials violated a law that requires any public improvement to cost homeowners less than the estimated boost in home values.

And while the city recognizes the project is costly, they also say it's necessary.

“When you install infrastructure like that, if you're going down the road you can't just service some and not others,” said Craig Hoium, Austin’s director of Community Development. “It costs money to put the pipe in the ground."

But opponents say necessity isn't the issue.

“There are people with brand new, totally compliant, totally up-to-date systems, some less than three years old, and they're being assessed and they have to hook up,” Davis said.

The project was initiated over concerns about pollution levels in the Cedar River, which at one point was named one of the most polluted rivers in the state. And while the city wants to end pollution, for some residents, it could mean the end of their time in Austin.

“For some people they just absolutely do not have it, can't pay it, and they'll just have to let their homes go,” Davis said.

Residents were given a five-year grace period from the time the property was annexed in which to connect to the city system. The first lawsuits will come to court on Wednesday, with the rest starting sometime in March.