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What should city do about dozens of Watertown’s septic tanks?

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Barben Avenue resident Peter J. Dephtereos just wants what almost everyone already has in the city of Watertown: a sewer hookup to his home.

After living in an old farmhouse on one of the city’s nicest streets for almost 20 years, Mr. Dephtereos and his wife, Libby S., still rely on a septic tank in their yard at 285 Barben Ave.

But the septic system has problems. The leach field is failing, so they figured it made sense to finally get their home connected to the city’s sewer system.

It’s not that easy. They have to get their neighbors to agree to help pay perhaps thousands of dollars to get them hooked up.

“I’m not asking for anything that everybody doesn’t already have,” Mr. Dephtereos said.

Well, almost everybody. In fact, the city’s engineering firm believes as many as 140 homes throughout the city still have septic tanks, City Engineer Kurt W. Hauk said.

Normally associated with more rural areas, the brunt of them are in the “Sand Flats,” an area on the west end between Arsenal and Coffeen streets with some of the oldest homes.

Septic systems can be found on Hazelhurst Avenue and on Ely, Emmit, Palmer and Haney streets; in the 800 block of Massey Street on the south side, and on the east end in homes along the 1800 block of State Street.

When the topic came up at a recent meeting, Watertown City Council members could not believe how many homes are not connected to city sewers.

“There are a lot,” Councilwoman Teresa R. Macaluso said Tuesday, adding that council members some day will have to decide how to handle septic tanks.

They remain in service for a variety of reasons, Mr. Hauk said. In some cases, houses have been built in low-lying areas that “run downgrade,” he said. It would require pump stations and other equipment to tie such homes into the sewer system.

Septic tanks also are a result of houses being built farther out and years after the road was built. Some properties may be too far from a sewer line. And there have been instances when properties could gain access to sewers but residents decided against it.

But Mr. and Mrs. Dephtereos now face coughing up about $5,000 to dig out the leach field because the field has become too saturated with water. It seems like the perfect time to get access, they said.

“You would think that the city would want us to have city sewer,” he said, adding he then would have to pay for the service like any other user.

It could cost as much as $50,000 for the city to bring sewer service to the Dephtereoses’ home and to their neighbors’ properties at 282 and 286 Barben Ave., according to a Sept. 9 memo by Mr. Hauk. The three properties run uphill, he wrote.

Councilman Jeffrey M. Smith pointed out that city code would require them to be connected because the line would run by their house.

Yet all three owners may have to agree to proceed with the project, since it would cost them thousands of dollars to make a lateral hookup and to install new indoor plumbing, Mr. Hauk said.

He has talked to Susan Favreau, who owns 282 Barben Ave., and she seems reluctant to get involved in the project, Mr. Hauk said. The owner of 286 Barben Ave,, Albert E. Gault, retired executive editor of the Watertown Daily Times, already is tied in to the city’s sewer system. He has assured the city his property has sewer service, saying he has been billed for it ever since moving there 27 years ago.

Council members most likely will have to decide whether the city should honor the couple’s request and move ahead with the project. But Ms. Macaluso is not convinced property owners should be forced to pay for something they don’t want.

It also leaves a question unanswered for Mr. Smith, who wonders what to do about the other 139 septic tanks in the city.

“The goal is to get them off septic tanks and hooked up to city sewers,” he said. “They’re going to have to be replaced some day, anyway.”

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