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Talent fire victims face $12,000 sewer tab

Many residents of Talent’s Oak Valley subdivision, destroyed by the Sept. 8 Almeda fire, will face whopping bills — projected at $12,085 per lot — for a new sewer system if they choose to rebuild.

When constructed in the mid-1990s, the subdivision was built with a sewer system designed for a mobile home park rather than the more rigorous standards required for a public system. To comply with state rules, Rogue Valley Sewer Services has proposed a new system that would cost $785,549.

A public hearing on the proposal will be held March 17 at the district’s meeting, where the board could approve seeking bids for the work. When rebuilding occurs, RVSS could not issue permits to connect to a nonconforming sewer system.

“We are going to wait until the end of March for clarification,” said homeowner Ryan Rutchland, who has yet to decide whether to sell his lot or rebuild.

He says lots in the subdivision, where residents must be 55 or older, are now for sale on Zillow, and that about a half-dozen lots already have been cleaned up.

The city of Talent had approved plans for a mobile home park, but the area was developed as a subdivision with stick-built homes beginning in 1994.

An Oregon Department of Environmental Quality letter in July 1995 notified developer Jensen and Associates that RVSS refused to accept the system as public and offered three options, none of which were pursued. In 2003, the area homeowners association accepted responsibility for maintenance.

“The city would do plan review on the internal stuff. They changed from a manufactured home park to a subdivision, but didn’t change the plans,” said Carl Tappert, manager for RVSS.

“They had to know. It wasn’t a surprise.”

Mobile home parks are private property with sewer systems governed by Oregon plumbing code. Sewer systems for residential subdivisions are governed by DEQ rules and considered public facilities.

Parks can use smaller diameter sewer lines and are not required to put in manholes, as are public systems. In addition, easements for access to lines must be in place for public systems.

“We want to get more information to get the best we can out of this situation,” said Jerry Hauk, president of the homeowners association. The group’s board will meet with RVSS later this week to talk about possible assistance.

Conversations have been held with both federal and state representatives about the situation, said Tappert.

“There have been discussions, but I don’t think anything has really happened. There’s some discussion with FEMA,” said Tappert. “I know there’s some interest at the state level. As far as I know, nothing has been finalized.”

A report prepared by Tappert recommends building an entirely new system, which would be placed underneath roadways in the development and would incorporate manholes. If the board approves the project, bids would go out in early April with plans for completion by mid-August. Because work is in the roadway, presence of fire debris on lots would not be an obstacle, said Tappert.

Most lines for the current system run under the backyards of lots. Modifying the system, with requirement for easements, would render some of the lots unbuildable, while many could not use the same footprint as before. Before work could be done, easements would have to be secured and fire debris cleared from lots. In addition, roadways for service equipment would need to be built, impacting 15 lots.

At a Zoom meeting held Feb. 3 with residents, Tappert explained the options. Some homeowners insurance policies might contain provisions that would cover costs of upgrading systems to meet code requirements, he said.

RVSS would pay for the project costs upfront and create a reimbursement district, with property owners paying costs of improvements at the time of hookup. The board would have the option of allowing payments over 20 years with interest and/or deferring payment until such time as the properties sold.

The bills would apply to 65 of the 77 lots in the development. The other dozen are hooked directly to regular sewer lines on the edge of the property.

Rebuilding of the subdivision’s clubhouse and refurbishing of the swimming pool will take place. The association leased the building from its owner and was required to carry insurance to cover replacement in the event of a fire, said Hauck.

A similar sewer arrangement exists with one subdivision in Central Point, said Tappert, although it was constructed prior to that city hooking up to RVSS. About half of that system has been upgraded to public standards.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

Property owners in Talent's Oak Valley subdivision, already reeling from the loss of their homes during September's Almeda fire, could find themselves facing an additional cost for upgrading the sewer system.{ } (Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune)