When we heard about outrageous costs associated with state-required sewer connections in southeast Bend's Old Farm District, we were skeptical. A $50,000 bill to trench a 91-foot line to connect a SE Tapadera Street home to the city's sewer seemed outrageous. We initially thought it simply couldn't be accurate.
It is. Bend City Engineer Ryan Oster confirmed the cost to the Source Weekly, saying it could cost $40,000 to $80,000 to trench and connect required sewer lines—all depending on a number of conditions, including rocky terrain, of which Bend has plenty below the soil surface.
The home in question on SE Tapadera serves as the talking point for a major problem facing the City of Bend, but it's far from an isolated case. City engineers say there are thousands of homes inside city limits where septic systems are beginning to fail due to age. If they are within 300 feet of a city sewer line, the State of Oregon requires homes move from septic systems and be connected to city sewer lines.
The area in question was annexed nearly 20 years ago. The city has had years to head off the problem and to save homeowners tens of thousands. It failed to do so.
Local Improvement Districts, or LIDs, could have been formed to spread and dramatically lower the cost among groups of residents, but they weren't. We agree with Councilor-elect Justin Livingston who asked, "Where was the leadership?"
While we agree that older septic systems inside city limits are becoming a health and environmental hazard, the city's non-approach to finding solutions is unacceptable. Many of the residents, such as Carolyn Crawford and Glenda Maddox, who own the home on SE Tapadera Street, don't have the money. Their health is failing, and like many aging people, they're living on a fixed income. They haven't been able to sell their home and move into a 55+ community, as they desire, because of the sewer burden.
The city elected to annex an area where many residents would have preferred to remain outside city limits. Meanwhile, there have been changes to the makeup of the City Council, which talks of affordable housing on one hand while residents are required to shell out their life savings to meet high cost housing requirements. Urgent solutions are needed for them. The formation of LIDs, grant funding, low-cost financing and other options need to be explored.
Trenching sewer lines shouldn't cost $80,000 to a single home. The city knew the problem was coming. Other cities such as Portland and Seattle have dealt with it. If Bend Councilors lived in a similar situation, we believe the problem would have been handled much more urgently. It's time to find equitable solutions for these residents who are paying their taxes and who find themselves gobbled up in the city's annexation craze of years past.