An estimated 4,000 residential sewer connections in the City of Portland don’t comply with city code. The most common types of nonconforming sewer connections are party sewers, which are connections shared by more than one property, and private sewers in the public right-of-way.
In January 2008, the city started a Nonconforming Sewer Program that requires property owners to replace nonconforming connections and pay a sewer conversion charge. In response to concerns and complaints from the public about the cost and fairness of the program, City Commissioner Dan Saltzman and the Bureau of Environmental Services formed a citizens' advisory committee in September 2011 to review the program and recommend changes.
In March 2012, the committee recommended that Environmental Services reduce the residential conversion charge to the cost of a branch charge. Customers who have paid or financed a sewer conversion charge since the Nonconforming Sewer Program began on January 2, 2008 will receive a reimbursement or credit to their loan account of the difference.
The committee also recommended a new process to allow the city to adopt private sewer lines in the public right-of-way, and that Environmental Services provide more easily understandable and accessible information to the public about the Nonconforming Sewer Program.
The recommended changes apply only to residential properties. Mixed use, commercial and industrial properties, and residential units larger than a four-plex will continue to pay a sewer conversion charge.
The city calculates the sewer conversion charge based on lot size. The average conversion charge is about $9,000 but can go as high as $20,000 for large lots. The less expensive branch charge is the city’s average cost to build a branch connection from a private sewer lateral to the main sewer line. The charge is currently $4,844 per branch, but is likely to increase to about $5,000 per branch in the new fiscal year that begins on July 1.
Residential customers who connect to the public sewer via a private line in the public right-of-way will be able to request that the city adopt their private line starting later this summer. The city will not charge customers to adopt private sewer lines at least 8-inches in diameter, in relatively good condition and located correctly within the right-of-way. But most private sewers likely won’t meet those standards since most owners don’t know they have this kind of connection and the private lines haven’t been maintained for years.
Since most adopted sewers won’t meet city standards, the city will probably need to replace the sewers soon after adopting them. To recover those costs the city will charge the property owner the sewer conversion charge equal to the branch charge.
Environmental Services is developing administrative rules and code changes to implement these changes. The public had until June to review and comment on the rule changes and the new rules will take effect this summer.
The Bureau of Environmental Services provides city residents with programs to protect water quality and public health, including wastewater collection and treatment, sewer construction and maintenance, stormwater management, and stream and watershed restoration.