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Residents: Southfield's sewer rules stink

The Detroit News

Southfield residents are criticizing city leaders for an ordinance that could force some homeowners to switch from their septic systems to the city’s sewer service at a cost of thousands.

In the last year, homeowners who have septic tanks or private sewer disposal system received letters from the city advising them to obtain certification or risk a civil citation.

At a meeting between Southfield officials and about 50 residents Thursday, city officials said some 500 notices had gone out, and most systems passed inspections.

But some residents say the measure is unfair and the city was not working with them to become compliant.

“You guys are supposed to be looking out for us,” said Hiram Cade. “It’s not happening.”

The gathering at Beech Woods Recreation Center followed complaints related to Ordinance 1571, which was enacted in 2009 and requires residences with septic tanks to have those certified by an approved agency every three years. Residents still may use the tanks, but if an evaluation deems them “inadequate, unsafe, or ... otherwise subject to failure upon an inspection, the owner must connect to the available public sanitary sewer,” city representatives said in a statement Thursday.

“When a private septic system fails, and sewage is not properly processed in an appropriate manner, there is a significant danger to human and animal health, as well as contaminants being discharged into nearby waterways,” the statement said.

To pay for the cost of hooking up to the city’s sewer system, which varies by property, Southfield offers low-interest loans, the city said.

Some claim Southfield had only previously told them about septic upkeep and between 2009-16 provided few or no details on the ordinance.

Keith Harris, a longtime resident who helped found the All RASE and Life Matter advocacy group, also contends many residents don’t know what happens if they cannot pay for certification or switching to the city system.

He argues the loan option can raise their water bills by thousands of dollars. Later, if homeowners fall behind on the tab, it might mean a lien on their properties, Harris said.

“We shouldn’t be held responsible for this,” Harris said. “The city should incur the expenses.”

The city officials and representatives Thursday night said they were willing to work with residents on securing certification and resolving their issues. “We want you to stay in your homes,” Sue Ward, Southfield’s city attorney, told the crowd.

Ward also pointed out that state law gives cities the power to ask residents with septic tanks to connect to the community’s sewer system if it’s within 200 feet. She said Southfield’s ordinance had been enforced since 2009 but priority was given to homeowners with “obvious and direct discharges” from their septic system.

But many residents balked, saying some were sold homes in recent years without any knowledge of the ordinance requirements.

“The residents here never received a letter,” said Stacy Jackson, who has lived in the city for 12 years.