Steamboat Springs The inability to unravel who owns an Old Town neighborhood sewer system might have residents forking over money for improvement costs on infrastructure they had believed for years belonged to the city.
After developers requested to hook into a sewer line that feeds into the Gilleland Home Subdivision, city officials told the residents the line in need of repair was never dedicated to the city. That meant the $50,000 cost of the much-needed sewer upgrade fell in the laps of the 12 homeowners who live in the 30-year-old development on East Logan Street.
And while some residents are saying the estimated $4,000 cost per home could be a blow to their wallets, others fear it could set a precedent for the city to require older homes in Steamboat to pay for infrastructure improvements when no clear record of ownership exists.
On Thursday afternoon, more than a dozen homeowners met with City Manger Paul Hughes and Public Works Director Jim Weber to talk about what options are out there.
Hughes made it blatantly obvious the city wouldn't couldn't pay for the improvement costs unless it was clearly designated as a sewer line dedicated to the city.
"Unless you come up with some evidence that this was a meant-to-be-in-the-city system, we have no choice but to treat it like other private systems in the city," Hughes told homeowners.
But he said the city could finance a loan for residents to pay for the sewer line improvements or let homeowners continue searching for documents that give proof the sewer line was dedicated.
Some local homeowners were not exactly pleased with that solution.
"The city is not willing to pay for it pay for a historical error," homeowner Sharon Yeager said.
Although residents have been paying city sewer and water bills since moving into the subdivision, and for some that has been for more than two decades, Hughes said those payments did not guarantee the city owns the sewer lines. For the city to own and maintain infrastructure, it has to meet city standards before dedication.
But it was not until 1975 that the city developed a clear guideline on how developers should identify, install and dedicate city infrastructure, regulations that did not exist when the houses were built in 1968.
And for Gilleland residents, that means while there is no record of dedication, there isn't any record the sewer line was not dedicated. And, they said, it could have been dedicated and just not recorded.
"In 1968 in Steamboat, there were less than a half-dozen employees (working for the city). It was a handshake, kick-the-tires type of place," said Bob Weiss, the attorney representing the homeowners.
Weiss suggested the city accept the burden of the improvements if the homeowners can prove the copper sewer piping was up to 1968 specifications and could have been dedicated to the city. To do that, homeowners need to find records of what the 1968 specifications were and if the piping going into their houses meets it.
Hughes also noted this might only work if there are no other records from that era that show developments with sewer line dedications.
But Weber said in the late '80s and early '90s, the city replaced most of the old sewer lines owned by the city in Old Town and if the Gilleland subdivision was owned by the city, it would have mostly likely been upgraded with the other improvements.
Weber and Hughes said this is the first situation they remember in Steamboat where an older development has no record of private ownership of sewer lines and homeowners were not aware that it was not a public infrastructure. But Hughes said mix-ups on who owns what for old properties is not unheard of.