Whose line is it anyway?

Sewer board, Waldners dispute ownership/maintenance responsibility of north Saratoga sewer line


Wednesday’s meeting of the Saratoga Water and Sewer Joint Powers Board (sewer board) was dominated by talk of sewage problems facing two local businesses on the north end of town and whether the town or the property owners are responsible.

Happy Tails dog boarding and Saratoga Feed have had consistent problems with sewage backing up on their property since earlier in the year, and the owner of at least one of the businesses, Happy Tails, is frustrated with the situation and what she sees as the town dragging its feet to fix a sewer line owned by the town. The sewer board, however, disputes that the line is the responsibility of the board and that the business owners are responsible for it themselves.

The line in question runs from the Saratoga Feed property underneath WYO. 130 where it connects into the town’s sewage system. Earlier in the year, the board said it could find no documentation detailing the construction of the line, and concluded that therefore, the line did not belong to the town and was the responsibility of the property owners.

Last month, the board discussed the issue at length with Russ Waldner, a board member and co-owner of Happy Tails Dog Boarding. During the discussion, Russ Waldner removed himself from the board temporarily and addressed the board as a citizen.

At the end of that meeting, the board said that it would have the town attorney draft up a liability waiver to be signed by the property owners. The waiver, board chair Don Price said, would allow the town to use its equipment to clear the line while indemnifying the town from responsibility if the pipe was damaged during the cleaning.

But according to Pam Waldner, wife of sewer board member Russ Waldner’s and co-owner of Happy Tails, a few days later, Price visited the Waldners and said that no such waiver would be issued.

On Wednesday’s meeting, Pam Waldner addressed the board and accused it of backing out on something it said it would do, but Price explained that the town’s attorney advised against the waiver, saying that servicing the line could set a precedent of ownership or responsibility for the town.

Waldner addressed the board for over an hour, saying that she believed the line must have been installed by the town or some other official government entity since it is unlikely that a private individual would be able to install a line that runs under a state highway.

“There’s no way that Joe Blow bored under the highway or dug a ditch under the highway and covered it back up,” Waldner said. “Nobody believes that somebody went out there and did that.”

Waldner told the board she had spent hours at the town hall, the courthouse and had even pored through records at state agencies to look for information about when the line was installed under the highway and who would have been responsible for its maintenance.

Sewer Board member Richard Raymer said that in the past, there had been instances of illegal lines being installed in Saratoga, and called the illegal lines “good old boy deals” from years ago. He pointed specifically to an illegal sewer line in the town that ran from one indi home to a sewer main two blocks away, running under a street and even private property.

Since the line runs under the highway, the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) should have a record of it, and it was surprising they didn’t since the agency is known to keep very good records, said board member Craig Kopasz.

Scott Kinniburgh of WYDOT said that he had tried to find documentation on the line running under the highway and find out who had applied for and received the permit to construct it, but because it was so long ago the records were not available. WYDOT would rely heavily on the daily diary records of the foreman at the time, he said.

It should be impossible to install a line under a state highway without a permit from WYDOT, Kinniburgh said, yet he had been unable to find any information about such a permit, who might have obtained it or whether it was a private individual or the town.

“They would have to fill out a permit,” Kinniburgh said. “And, that would be a very expensive permit to get.”

The town would take responsibility for maintaining and cleaning out the line if it could be proven that the line was installed by the town, Raymer said, but added that for the town to take any action today would set a precedent that the town was responsible for the line.

But that precedent had already been established, Waldner argued, claiming that a previous owner of the property told her that the town had indeed cleaned the line under the highway before.

“If I can get a letter from Roger Manbeck (a former town employee) saying he cleaned the line, will that be enough?” Waldner asked Price.

“If he can say he knows for sure it’s the town’s line,” Price said.

A frustrated Waldner asked what she should do in the meantime to be able to conduct business without sewage problems. Board members urged Waldner to have the sections of the line on private property inspected by a plumber and possibly cleaned out.

Three lines converge two feet under the surface on the property belonging to the Saratoga Feed Store, and from there sewage flows into the line that runs under the highway, Kopasz said. Such a design is flawed, Kopasz said, saying he believed that was most likely responsible for the blockage.

Board members urged Waldner to have that section of the pipe inspected at her expense. Waldner said that again, the board had shirked its responsibility, and that her expenses would only increase.

Waldner said she had consulted an attorney for legal advice, but had not yet retained the services of a lawyer in the matter. She also has scheduled a meeting with representatives from the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) in hopes that the agency may be able to shed some light on the ownership of the line, and who should be responsible for its maintenance and repair.

Kopasz and Raymer agreed to attend that meeting with the DEQ, they said.

After nearly 1 hour and 40 minutes of discussing the Happy Tails situation, the board quickly dispensed with the rest of the meeting agenda. It accepted the resignation of Glee Johnson and accepted the appointment of her replacement, Don Sherrod.

The board also heard a report that the new RV dumping station kiosk which requires RV owners to pay with a card or token before dumping sewage has collected $320 in only 20 days of operation. The kiosk is well on its way to cover the cost of its installation, Raymer said.


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