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Northside residents want state to correct mistake

By By ROBERT BLANKENSHIP - Managing Editor
The residents of Northside Subdivision have their fingers crossed. They are hoping that years of living with severe sewage problems will come to an end with the latest efforts of the county and state.
At the same time, the residents there have been down this road before and realize that talking about the problem won't necessarily resolve the situation.
On Tuesday, Escambia County officials met with grant writers and engineers to discuss writing a new grant that they hope will resolve a problem that has plagued homeowners in the Northside Subdivision for over 20 years.
The meeting was held to determine a strategy in increasing the chances for a grant to fund sewage improvements in that area. For the county commission, this is only the latest in a long line of efforts to update the system there.
At one point, it appeared the those in the Northside Subdivision would get relief. When ADECA said the only obstacle in getting a grant was for access to a treatment center, the City of Brewton agreed to allow the subdivision to tie in to its lines. But, at least three years later, the subdivision is still a sewage wasteland.
The conditions at the Northside Subdivision is caused by soil that is not able to percolate, thus making residents' septic tanks useless.
Now, 20 years after tests concluded that the ground would percolate and would be suitable for septic tanks, residents live with constant sewage runoffs and odors. That initial test for percolation was approved by the county health department.
Since those tests, it has been determined that clay in the soil will not allow the soil to percolate. This critical error is one reason that residents in that area feel the state should, at the very least, help fund a sewage project there.
Emma Lancaster, a retired school teacher, has lived in the subdivision for 23 years. She built her house on land she purchased from the late Mack Lovelace. She still has the documentation from the original perk test, which was signed and approved by the Escambia County Health Department.
It did not take long after moving in that Lancaster noticed a problem with the sewage.
Soon, Lancaster took her problem to the health department. She said that visit ended with more problems and no solution.
Lancaster said that at one point, a health department official told her to get a lawyer.
Over the years, residents in the subdivision installed various sewage lines in hopes of resolving the situation. But, Lancaster said nothing has worked in keeping the neighborhood's streets clean and its yards clear of stench.
While trying to fix their problems physically in their own yards, several residents have also been working to get the job done through government agencies. Lancaster said she met down with legal representatives from the local health department and the state. In 1997, she and three other Northside homeowners signed arrest warrants issued by the county health department.
During the latest meeting with the health and state departments, held on Feb. 7, Lancaster said she took a soil sample from her yard so those in attendance could see that it was mostly clay.
The county commission has been an ally to the homeowners in Northside, according to Lancaster.
Commissioner Todd Williamson, whose district includes Northside, said the commission is poised to approve a grant application through ADECA for the project. He said the county has the required matching funds for a project that is estimated at $530,000. In fact, Williamson said the commission felt the project was important enough that they have approximately 33 percent of the total cost in match money.
While previous grants have been turned down because of a low 'cost-to-person' ratio, this application will be different because the health risks have now moved into other areas, according to Williamson.
Williamson has known about the problem in the Northside Subdivision since he took office over two years ago. He said the people there deserve better living conditions.
Lancaster said she feels like her dream of having a nice home to retire to has been squandered because of a mistake 23 years ago that nobody wants to correct.
After countless letters to government representatives and agencies, Lancaster said she felt the state has an obligation to the 24 homeowners of Northside Subdivision.
The residents in Northside hope that their many efforts to resolve the problem will result in a solution.
Lancaster said she will continue to work for a resolution to the problem because she feels that she is fighting a just cause.