The city of Lewiston is concerned that the proposed addition of 10 new septic systems in a Lewiston Orchards subdivision may undo some of the progress made when sanitary sewer came to the area last year.

Developer Joe Greco’s Skyview Estates is in Nez Perce County, adjacent to the city limits. Private homes built in phase one of the subdivision already added about 10 septic systems to the area before the sewer trunk line’s installation last summer. Idaho Department of Environmental Quality officials have said the existing dense concentration of septic systems is contributing to high nitrate levels that are polluting the Lindsay and Tammany creek drainages.

The Lewiston Urban Renewal Agency partnered with the city last year to install the sewer trunk line through the area, and a primary goal was reducing that pollution by getting homeowners to abandon their septic systems.

Dozens of homes have already switched, and others have pledged to in the future. But City Engineer Shawn Stubbers said he is frustrated that the $2.1 million project took a big step forward only to be threatened by a step back.

“We’ve got the third-highest nitrate groundwater priority in the state of Idaho on an increasing trend,” Stubbers said of the potential impact of the 10 new proposed septic systems. “If Public Health (North Central Idaho District), DEQ and (Nez Perce) County are going to allow him to create new septic systems faster than we can get the old ones off the system, aren’t we just beating our head against the wall?”

Greco said his development plan for the 16 lots in phase two is partly dictated by topography. The six northern lots can drain wastewater by gravity to the new sewer main underneath Powers Avenue. But the 10 other lots sit to the south of a rise and would require a lift station to pump wastewater over the hill.

The expense of building that station would eat into his bottom line and require him to raise the price of the lots, Greco said.

“Putting in a full-blown lift station doesn’t really pencil out for that area,” he said. “Unless the city wants to put it in there. They’re the ones making the money off it.”

Any new septic systems will have to be approved by Public Health. Ed Marugg, environmental health director at the agency, said his staff will have to look at the overall groundwater situation in the area when considering septic approval, in addition to the usual criteria like lot size and soil conditions at Skyview Estates.

“With all the future development that could go on out there, and with the studies that DEQ has done with aquifer and surface water, it would probably be a very good thing to have it hooked up to municipal sewer,” he said. “I would have concerns about adding a lot of new septic systems. Over time, you can contribute to groundwater contamination.”

Greco said the 10 new septic systems are the only ones planned at this point. His development plan for 34 lots in phase three has been approved by Nez Perce County, and all will be able to gravity feed to the Powers Avenue sewer line.

There are no concrete plans for the remainder of the 160-acre subdivision, Greco added. It’s even possible that it could remain as farmland for the foreseeable future, he said.

Still, Stubbers said the city would love to avoid any new septic systems. He thought requiring the eventual buyers of the 10 southern lots in phase two to install individual grinder pumps would be a good compromise. The pumps are a good short-term alternative to septic tanks that could push the wastewater into the sewer system, he said.

“Anyone that can have the opportunity to be on public sewer and not septic is a benefit to the community.”

Stubbers also worried about the fate of Skyview Estates homeowners who built along Powers Avenue before the sewer line was installed. They each sunk about $8,000 into their septic systems, only to learn later that the notes on the subdivision plat specify that they need to switch to sewer if and when it becomes available. And last year, it did.

That switch would cost them about another $6,000, Stubbers estimated. It will be up to the Lewiston City Council whether they are allowed to keep their septic systems, he said.

Mills may be contacted at jmills@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2266.

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