Sewage runs amuck on Bell Street

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 28, 2003

The rain has been bad enough for Tyler Smith. His basketball court, normally hard dirt, doesn’t hold up well when torrential rains pour over his Demopolis home.

But imagine having sewage spilling over the free-throw line.

On Memorial Day, when so many 9-year-olds like Tyler enjoyed cook-outs and pick-up basketball games, this youngster watched his grandfather sift through a septic tank pump, unclogging the backlog of sewage that too often ruins a good game of hoops.

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In 1973, when Smith bought a lot on Bell Street, he didn’t worry too much about the septic tank he needed for his home. The temporary sewer systems were commonplace in rural communities like Demopolis. But 30 years later, that septic tank still drains the sewage from Smith’s decorated home.

Smith doesn’t come across as a man bitter about racial inequalities. In fact, he spoke about the racial problem in a quiet manner &045;&045; in some ways, he acted like he never wanted to mention his perception at all.

Demopolis Mayor Austin Caldwell said calling the lack of work a race-based issue is not fair.

Caldwell pointed to sidewalks and curbs, along with gutters that have been improved in recent years, and he said that work has taken place in black areas of town.

City councilman Willard Williams, who represents Smith’s district, understands Smith’s frustration and has addressed members of the city council about the problem.

Obviously, no city leader in Demopolis takes joy in seeing a street with four homes remain on a septic tank. That doesn’t mean installing a sewer line is an easy task, though.

During one recent council meeting, grant specialist Bob Corwin told council members that getting money to install a sewer line for Bell Street is a difficult task – in large part because of the few number of residents living on that street. At the same time, Edgewood Drive, which runs parallel to Bell Street just a football field away, is scheduled to get a sewer line in the coming months.

As Corwin explained it, receive a grant from the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs depends greatly on the population of the area affected. Edgewood has many more residents than does Bell Street, and Edgewood falls under a cap of how much money can be allotted per resident on a street.

Thomas Moore, another city councilman who has tried to help with the Bell Street plight, calls the situation there "unreal."

Finding a solution

There are, in fact, some solutions being tossed around for the sewerage problem on Bell Street. For starters, a new subdivision is being built behind Bell Street, and that subdivision will have a sewer line built on the property.

Another option may include the work that could take place on Edgewood.

Caldwell said there are a couple of options that could help alleviate the problem on Bell Street.

However, an assessment for the four homes on Bell Street would be a lot of money, Caldwell said.

William Smith has his own solution.

If a sewer line is added to the Edgewood area, Smith also suggests that a pump be placed near his home that would pump the sewage from the Bell Street area to Edgewood.

Real Risks

Having a septic tank, even today, isn’t the end of the world. Many lots in rural parts of this state still use the tanks to pump sewage from their houses.

But in the 21st century, and as a resident of the city of Demopolis, Smith says not having sewer lines is ridiculous. And for more than any other reason, Smith doesn’t like the health risks involved when his flat piece of property becomes a sponge full of contaminated sewage.

The problem doesn’t just include Smith’s back yard, either. Across the street from his house, a small ditch held sewage that had spilled over from another resident’s home.

This summer, like summers in recent memory, will bring along more than hot afternoons. Mosquitoes carrying the West Nile virus are forecasted again for this year, and Smith can already predict what will happen when the insects nest near his home.

And the sewage that sits just a matter of feet from the three-point line of Tyler Smith’s basketball court will serve as a luscious breeding ground for those dangerous insects.