Petersburg’s borough assembly Tuesday denied an appeal by a Mitkof Highway homeowner who’s been ordered to clean up and fix a problem with the home’s sewage. The homeowner doesn’t think the failed septic tank is her responsibility to fix.
The home at 410 Mitkof Highway is owned by Courtney Johnson. Utility director Karl Hagerman served her with a notice and order of abatement in August and detailed the borough’s findings in an appeal hearing this month.
“The nuisance itself is a raw sewage spill below the home in question on the hillside that leads to the beach of Wrangell Narrows, a state water body afforded protections under the Clean Water Act,” Hagerman said. “The residence is within 150 feet of the borough sewer system and is therefore required to hook up to our collection system, our waste water collection system.”
Police officers had photographed the sewage spill in July after serving an arrest warrant on a different matter. The borough wants to require Johnson to cordon off the spill area to keep people and animals away, clean up the sewage and connect to the borough sewer system using a licensed professional. The deadline was set for August 18. Johnson appealed that order and asked for more time.
Borough staff inspected the repairs in late August and found a septic tank had an overflow discharging into a nearby creek. They did not believe the tank had been pumped out for many years and found the home’s sewer line had been reconnected to the septic tank but that connection did not comply with building codes.
Johnson said she bought the home in 2018 and had thought she was connected to the borough’s sewer system. She pointed out she’s been paying for that service on her utility bills. She is connected to the borough’s water supply, but the local government is planning to shut that off if she doesn’t fix the problem. She contested the borough’s findings.
“The septic tank is a working septic tank and the only reason that there was sewage on the hillside in that moment was because my brother had disconnected the sewage lines, because our toilet was clogged and he had disconnected the sewage line and he got arrested while he was doing that,” Johnson said. “So it was unhooked but normally in the last two years I have never noticed, I would not condone sewage being pumped onto my hillside. It had just started previous to that, like a day I think before.”
Johnson thinks the borough should be responsible for the sewer connection because it did not require the previous owner to connect.
The borough puts that responsibility on Johnson and maintains that her septic tank is not functioning. Assembly member Bob Lynn was not swayed by her testimony.
“That is the responsibility of the property owner,” Lynn said, adding, “and I didn’t see anything in the presentation that would lead me to believe that it was the responsibility of a third party.”
The assembly was unanimous in voting to uphold the abatement order. That means the borough’s building official will draft a written decision for the assembly to consider at their meeting November 2nd. That would give 30 days before the borough takes action, which could mean fines for Johnson, the end of her water service or the borough charging her for doing the work. Johnson said she’d challenge the decision in court.