Unexpected sewer bills cause stink in subdivision - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Unexpected sewer bills cause stink in subdivision

A Birmingham-based company discovered residents had been connected to their sewer lines and were never billed. A Birmingham-based company discovered residents had been connected to their sewer lines and were never billed.

Imagine getting slapped with a bill for hundreds of dollars and not understanding why.

That's what residents in one Madison County subdivision say happened after they got a sewer bill in the mail.

Delores Eppes has owned a home in the Bainbridge subdivision in Meridianville for seven years.

Earlier in May, she received a bill in the mail for $557 from a sewer company she had never seen before.

"First I was confused, I thought it was a scam, so I got on the phone May 6 and called this company and made sure they were a legit company and that it wasn't a scam trying to get money out of me," said Eppes.

It was not a scam.

Southwest Water Company in Birmingham told Eppes they discovered she and several other neighbors had been connected to their sewer lines and were never billed.

"I don't know how we can be 'discovered,' we've been here for seven years," added Eppes.

Eppes said the company told her it was because the subdivision's developer, Hunter Homes, failed to notify them about who was hooked up.

Since the bills were mailed, Hunter Homes has been inundated with calls from residents wanting answers.

"If Hunter Homes did not do their job then maybe they should get the money from Hunter Homes," said Eppes.

We took those concerns to Hunter Homes' attorney, Terry Bynum.

Just last month, Bynum sent Southwest Water a "cease and desist" letter, saying Southwest is "trying to deflect its own negligent behavior." Hunter Homes didn't even know Southwest was the sewer provider because their original agreement years ago was with a different company.

"Basically I told them, don't blame other people for your mistakes and treat the homeowners fairly, and I think everything will be alright, but it appears what happened - that whenever this transfer occurred, around 2007 - that the new sewer company just failed to follow up and didn't get these documents signed anymore. So it looks like they didn't do their due diligence in getting those documents signed. Here we are seven years later, they do some accounting and figured out there are a bunch of people on the sewer system they didn't know about," said Bynum.

Many in the neighborhood have been paying their sewer bills all along.

Southwest Water Company's Managing Director, Craig Sorensen issued this statement:

"Southwest Water Company is committed to treating our customers fairly. In this event as we have discovered unauthorized connections to our water reclamation facility, we must act to ensure the integrity of the system. The affected customers, once identified, were notified by letter at their home informing them of the issue and requesting they contact us to discuss their account. Southwest Water Company has taken the reasonable position that, while these customers may have been using our service for an extended period covering multiple years, we are only requiring them to pay for their last 12 months service.  Additionally, we have offered these customers a 12 month installment plan that will bring their account current with minimal impact to them. 

We feel this arrangement is extremely fair to this group of customers.  To simply give these customers a "free pass" and allow them to start fresh without any back charges or penalties, would not be fair to our other customers who have faithfully paid their bills each month.  it would also potentially encourage others to attempt illegal connections in the future."

It still doesn't sit well with residents.

"I don't have a problem with paying from now until as long as I live here but I don't think your oversight should hurt me," said Eppes.

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