A specific procedure should be established to ensure property owners with access to Ruidoso's sewer lines hook up to the system, the chairman of the village's Capital Improvements Advisory Committee said Tuesday.

Lines were laid in some areas, such as a subdivision near Grindstone Reservoir, years ago, but only a few homeowners have paid the $1,800 fee and connected. Additional costs associated with deactivating old septic systems may be part of the problem. Sewer lines also were installed in the Pinecliff subdivision off U.S. 70 after a fire in 2011 destroyed nine homes.

Councilor Gloria Sayers, who attends the meetings of the committee that also sits as the village's Planning and Zoning Commission, pointed out that the village passed an ordinance in 1985, that requires all occupied property used for human habitation and capable of being served by the public sewer system to connect to a line.

The ordinance states that, "A written or printed notice to connect will be given by order of the council to all owners or occupants of property which is not connected with the system, but which is capable of being served by the public sewer system, and unless the time for connection of extended by council, all connections shall be made within 30 days after mailing of the required notice.



For decades, the ordinance was not an enforcement priority, in part because of the limited treatment capability of the regional wastewater treatment plant that served Ruidoso and Ruidoso Downs. But when federal and state environmental agencies attached strict new phosphorous and nitrogen standards to the discharge permit for the plant, and the village was sued over degradation of water quality in the Rio Ruidoso, the village was forced to move ahead with a $32 million expanded plant employing new treatment technology. The plant was placed in service last year.

Continuing the effort to improve water quality and decrease the number of septic systems seeping waste into the river, the village has installed sewer lines in several key locations previously not served and is laying new lines outside of the riverbed in Upper Canyon with the expectation that homes along the route not now on sewer will be hooked-up.

Committee Chairman John Cornelius said State Environment officials would help the village compel property owners into compliance to protect the area's groundwater. The state has more power because it can disallow use of a septic system.

Village Building Official Shawn Fort told committee members that he identified about 60 properties where sewer was available and the homeowners had not attempted to hook up to the village line.

Cornelius, committee members and Fort agreed to work on a letter to those property owners. While the wording should be positive and explain the need to protect the groundwater and the river, a copy of the ordinance would be included, along with the time frame and consequences if the property owner was unwilling to comply.

Officials with the state Environment Department already said they would put together a letter explaining the requirements that could be mailed with the village correspondence, Fort said. A mass mailing through the water department billing could be used, as well as an educational campaign for the public, members agreed.

Village Attorney Zach Cook said specific areas also could be targeted with certified mailings to property owners.

Village Utilities Director Randall Camp last month asked village councilors for approval to send letters to the property owners notifying them to apply for connection within 90 days and to complete the connection within six months.

But councilors were reluctant to move forward, preferring staff design a plan of implementation for each area with available sewer lines not being used, including the Pinecliff and Grindstone developments. The approach was to include a series of notices.

Councilor Lynn Crawford asked about the total cost to a homeowner, Village Engineer Bob Decker and others said beside the connection fee, the cost for a plumber and to either fill in or remove the old septic system could run as high as $3,000.

Councilors spoke about a temporary exemption that may be allowed for owners who installed expensive aerobic system that can run as high as $10,000, granting them time to recoup their investment.