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City address, country sewage

Sewer line can't reach SW Atlanta homes

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When Patra Walker's neighbor does a load of laundry or takes a shower, the people who live around her can tell. Wastewater bubbles from the black ground in her neighbor's front yard. It trickles down the slight slope into the street, leaving behind the telltale fetid smell of sewage.

According to Walker, as many as 20 of her neighbors have the same problem.

If they lived in the suburbs, overworked novic systems might not be that unusual. But Walker lives on Kimberly Road, on the city's southwest side. And though her home is well within city limits, the city's sewer line ends a few hundred feet from her door.

According to Walker, many of the small 40-plus-year-old homes here have had the problem for more than a decade. She's complained to the city about the novic system issue three times -- in 1989, 1991 and most recently last month. Nothing has been done.

What's irked Walker even more is that a new development of pricey-looking homes, many still under construction, on Melvin Drive -- not more than a mile away -- was given city sewer service while she and her neighbors have been waiting for 11 years now.

Walker claims the city has known about the novic problems at the Kimberly Road homes at least that long, and that there has been a plan to extend sewer service since 1992.

The catch is that the plan was never funded.

Lancelot Clark, the manager in charge of technical services with the city's public works department, admits there's been a plan on the books, and says that right now the city is waiting for the "contract to be executed."

That sounds promising, but Walker isn't holding her breath.

Three times in the span of a decade she's had work done to try to fix the system. Walker says she dropped about $1,000 each time, and each time the problem just came back.

"A lot of people here are getting ready to retire; they can't keep doing this every five years," Walker says.

To make matters worse, the city health department has cited her for the problem as well as her neighbor.

Woodrow Dorsey, who lives across the street from Walker, bought his property 18 years ago and assumed it was on the city's sewer system. Instead, he discovered he depended on a novic tank, and had to begin working on the system immediately. Walker says her mother also didn't know her home used a novic system when she purchased it.

Dorsey has re-dug the field twice; pipes for the field extend deep into his backyard. It doesn't help.

When [the novic tank] fills up, he says, "you can't hardly stay out here in the evening. You need a mask to come out here and do anything."

Still, his problem doesn't compare to Sheilah Reese's. Her novic line is so bad that the system backs up and floods her basement. The failing system, the smell it creates and the giant divot of muck where the novic tank lies, has rendered her backyard pretty much useless.

While it won't be cheap for Kimberly Road residents who want to tie on to the city sewer line -- Clark estimates about $1,500 for a property with 100 feet of frontage -- the price tag is significantly less expensive than trying to repair the system every few years.

As for the problem with the existing septic systems on Kimberly Road, it's probably one of age, Clark says.

"They've just reached the end of their lives," Clark explains. "When they go, they almost always go around the same time."

He can't explain the delay but guesses residents might have turned down a sewer extension years ago because it seemed too pricey. A builder might also have simply decided to end the construction of the sewer line at its current spot, Clark says.

Last Thursday, city surveyors were taking measurements around the area. They assured Walker work would begin soon.

Although Walker remains skeptical, there is one benefit to the sewage nightmare -- her lawn, now mostly the brown of Georgia winter, grows a healthy green through the percolating muck.

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