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Official Explains Letter

Official Explains Letter      

By Carole Medlock       Fort Smith Times Record

A health department official recently explained a letter referred to by Greenwood officials in a debate over whether to extend city sewer services on the city’s dime.

Steve Sherrill, with the Arkansas Department of Health, said a letter circulated by Greenwood Mayor Garry Campbell was not intended to a be a “wholesale condemnation” of septic systems used in Bell Addition.

City officials have said if the systems in Bell Addition were condemned, the city could legally extend sewer service to the area without asking for reimbursement because the residents in the area would be “compelled” to connect to the service.

The city would only seek reimbursement for a property owner to tie onto the line, not for the construction of the line itself.

The undated letter was written in 2000 and its purpose was to help facilitate grant efforts by the city to extend sewer to the area. It was never meant as a condemnation of any property, Sherrill said.

“Of eighty-eight houses surveyed sixty-seven were found to have some sort of septic system failure that posed a public health threat. This constitutes a 76 (percent) failure rate,” the letter states.

It also states, “It would be a significant step toward public health and safety if Bell Addition obtained a public sewage system.”

Sherrill said the percentage failure rate referred to in the letter does not mean that many systems were in violation of state law.

He said it included observations like slow drainage, toilet back-ups and gray water among others.

Sherrill said the concept of condemnation is not pursued his department.

Instead, the health department follows a procedure after a complaint is made about a specific piece of property, he said.

Following a complaint, the department investigates the area to determine whether there is a violation of the law; if there is, a citation report is developed and the violator is given a specific amount of time to make corrections to the system.

Sherrill said it would be a unique situation if a problem could not be corrected.

He added that even though his department has not received any official complaints about Bell Addition, the health department has some “real concerns” about wastewater removal in the area.

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