Aft ANTOMO WATERI.SYSTEM mum tki -Xfz-Z.1 Top: These couches cover the lid of a septic tank. Middle: Roberto Anguiano, President of Los Vecinos de las Misiones, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of the residents of the mission communities. Bottom: A city water pumping station near the neighbor hood. The water stops here and does not go further into the community, even though it is within the city limits. Infectious diseases are not the only risks associated with leaking septic tanks and cesspools. Some residents pile old furniture over their septic tanks so their children won’t accidentally fall in. Others walk out of their front doors right onto a dangerousnot to mention malodorousseptic cover. One of the biggest obstacles to obtaining service is the impact fee the city assesses for water and wastewater connections. The fee is about $1,500 for water and $525 for sewer, unobtainable sums for many of the residents in these neighborhoods. The health department finding, however, provided an out. In May 2001, the city passed an ordinance that waives the fees for areas declared a significant public health risk by the city. Property platting and code issues have proven to be a bit stickier. Texas C-Bar, a project of Texas Rural Legal Aid, helped organizer Roberto Anguiano obtain the voluntary services of two Jenkens & Gilchrist attorneys, Jeff Walsh and Jonathan Vinson, who have agreed to advise the group on the various legal obstacles that have bogged down the hookup process for many property owners. State law prohibits public utilities from serving or connecting sewer and other utility services to unlawfully divided land. If the city requires clear title, rather than partial ownership of property, it could keep many of the structures from obtaining sewer and water services. There are also prohibitions against connecting buildings that are not up to code. Ironically, denying structures that don’t meet code requirements brings the situation right back to where Roberto Anguiano startedwith a push to rehabilitate dilapidated housing. “If we can’t rehab the houses because they don’t have basic utilities, and we can’t get them basic utilities because the houses are in bad shape, we’ll go round and round in a catch-22,” Anguiano said. “There has to be someone with enough common sense and decency to decide that residents of San Antonio should not have to use outhouses and cesspools as a means of sewage dispos’ Observer board member D’Ann Johnson is legal services coordinator for Texas C-Bar. Alan Pogue is the Observer’s staff photographer. 12 THE TEXAS OBSERVER -12/6/02
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