Some City Council members are pushing to have Evanston assume much of the cost of homeowners’ private sewer line repairs.
Replacing a sewer line lateral from a home to its connection to the city sewer main in the street can cost from about $10,000 to more than $40,000.
A 2020 survey of Northwest Municipal Conference communities showed that only one, Bartlett, offers substantial financial assistance to homeowners with sewer line problems. Bartlett’s program caps the village’s expense at $10,000.
Although Evanston has failed to keep up with maintenance on its own buildings and infrastructure, despite budgeting $64 million for capital projects this year, some council members at Monday’s Administration and Public Works Committee meeting appeared eager to have taxpayers assume the additional responsibility.
Ald. Devon Reid (8th) suggested the city should cap the cost of any resident’s sewer repair cost at $15,000 and pay any amount over that.
Ald. Clare Kelly (1st) seconded Reid’s proposal and the committee, on a 4-1 vote, directed staff to come back with a draft ordinance to that effect for the panel’s March 14 meeting.
Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd) and Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) also voted for the proposal. Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) voted against it.
Reid suggested the cost of the program could be covered by raising the city’s sewer rate. That move would shift much of the burden of paying for it from homeowners onto renters, who would not benefit from the program.
The sewer repair cost issue has emerged as a result of lobbying by Francine Allen, of 2727 Elgin Road, who told council members she’s had to cash in a life insurance policy to pay a $45,000 bill to repair her sewer line.
In response to her concerns, the city has prepared a map indicating how far underground sewer lines are on streets across the city.
Public Works Director Dave Stoneback said three main factors affect the cost of sewer repair — the depth of the sewer line, the amount of traffic on the street and whether the ground has clay or sandy soil.
Sandy soil raises costs because it requires more shoring around the excavation to keep it from caving in and is most common in areas close to the lake, generally east of Ridge Avenue.
Stoneback said repair costs could range from $15,000 to $25,000 for a sewer more than 10-foot deep on a low-traffic street, from $17,000 to $30,000 for an eight- to 10-foot deep sewer on a high-high traffic street and from $30,000 to $40,000 on a sewer more than 10-foot deep on a high-traffic street.
Stoneback had proposed that if the Council wanted to provide financial assistance for repairs that it use a mix of loans and grants, with the amount of assistance keyed to the homeowner’s income level.
Stoneback said all sewer lines will fail eventually and noted that private insurance is available for such repairs, although the insurance policies typically cap their payments at around $10,000.
Stoneback had also proposed that the city add a requirement to its property transfer process that a plumber inspect sewer lines before a sale so buyers would know the condition of the lines at the home they were buying.
That, he suggested, would add roughly $200 to the cost of each property transfer. However, at earlier meetings alders had expressed doubts about whether, in the blizzard of paperwork at a closing home buyers would even notice that report, and local realtors voiced concerns about the added cost.