Village leaders lamented recent failures of a long-neglected sewer system while offering immediate plans to remedy the system at a town hall meeting Tuesday.
Bethalto Mayor Alan Winslow and Public Works Director Rod Cheatham addressed a crowd of roughly 250 residents gathered in Civic Memorial High School’s auditorium, many of whom were there to express their dissatisfaction with sewage-filled basements, flooded yards and other issues stemming from rain events in recent months. Some in attendance said they are still dealing with the effects of flooding in late December and again a few weeks ago, with many saying the damages are in the tens of thousands of dollars.
Cheatham, who started in his role in November, said the issues are “truly unacceptable.”
“I don’t accept it. The trustees don’t accept it. It will take us some time to get it addressed, but with the plan that we have in place you will see immediate results,” Cheatham said.
That plan, laid out during the meeting, includes rehabilitating roughly 9,000 feet of pipe throughout the village. Cheatham said much of the sewer system is old clay tile, with many of the pipes approaching 100 years old. As such, water infiltration of the pipes is rampant, leading to major issues during rain events like the area has experienced recently.
To remedy the issue, the village will utilize cured-in-place pipe technology, a method Cheatham likened to “building a pipe inside a pipe.” The process lets the village avoid excavating and having to physically replace the pipes.
The method is effective but comes at a cost, Cheatham said. The $250,000 recently allocated by the village for cured-in-place pipe work “doesn’t get a whole lot of lines, but we’re getting started,” Cheatham said.
Finding the money for more work in future years — and how quickly that money might be available — was among the issues raised by those in attendance. Winslow said he recognized the importance of getting the system remedied but expressed hesitance to borrow money to expedite the process, citing the roughly $9 million of debt already burdening the village.
“Unless our back is totally against the wall, I do not want to generate any additional debt. The debt that this village has right now is crushing,” Winslow said. “Our cash flow is absolutely miserable. I’m just not for going out and getting a $2-3 million bond. It would have to be something of almost Biblical proportions for me to say, yeah, we need to go do this.”
Winslow did note a meeting of village officials Monday included a discussion about redirecting some money from other village funds to attempt to address the sewer lines more quickly. Originally, Winslow said, the plan was to fix all the pipes over 8-10 years, a plan that now requires some rethinking.
“We’ve been very gun-shy about borrowing money; however, we did have a meeting (Monday) night, and we realize that we may have to expedite our schedule,” Winslow said. “We may have to stop some other projects in order to funnel additional cash into this water and sewer (fund) because obviously this is a quality of life issue. We fully recognize that, and it’s got to be fixed.”
Many audience members expressed frustration with the issues that, for some, have been going on for years.
“It’s to the point where we can’t even afford to move,” one resident said. “I love Bethalto. Don’t get me wrong; I love it. But I almost can’t afford to live here.”
“Twenty years of looking busy is too late,” another resident said. “We have to think about doing something now.”
In the near term, Cheatham suggested homeowners with flooding issues look into purchasing backflow preventers and said the village’s brush pick-up system may also need revamping to avoid yard waste being swept up by rainwater and clogging pipes and culverts. Winslow also encouraged any homeowners with flooding damages to file an insurance claim through the village’s insurer.
Over the long term, Winslow said he couldn’t promise anybody a “quick fix,” but Cheatham ensured residents that the sewer system is, finally, the village’s top priority.
“There is no magic wand or silver bullet for this problem,” Cheatham said. “It didn’t get here overnight. It’s not going to go away overnight. This is a culmination of 30 years of neglect. We’re going to fix it and address it as fast as we possibly can.”