Out With the Old

Shit happens: During this mayoral campaign season, when talk of getting back to basics--fixing streets, sidewalks, etc.--is all the vogue, the city's plans to replace aging, overburdened sewer lines in Deep Ellum should be good news. You'd think that business owners there would be happy.

They're not happy. In fact, there is fear among some in Deep Ellum that the new sewer lines will wind up flushing some businesses down the drain. (Note: That's the last scatological and/or plumbing word play. Promise.)

Or, as Scott Peterson, office manager for Txon Commercial Real Estate puts it, "It's a disaster." Peterson, whose company is a major Deep Ellum landlord, says the city's plans to replace the sewer lines that run behind and under the buildings with new lines under the streets may mean large plumbing bills and worse for some businesses.

The problem is that most businesses placed their sinks and toilets in the rear of their establishments, close to where the old sewer pipes are. Move them, and business owners will be forced to reconnect to the new lines under the streets. Businesses on several blocks along Main, Elm and Commerce--the bulk of Deep Ellum--could be affected, he says.

"It's going to put a lot of people under," Peterson says. Many Deep Ellum bars and restaurants have installed fancy flooring, lights, etc. that will need to be torn up to allow new pipes to be laid. Bars, restaurants and tattoo parlors may have to shut down temporarily.

Putting the new sewer lines where the old ones lie is not financially or technically feasible, and the city can only do work on city property, leaving the tenants and property owners to figure out how to pay for the new plumbing. They'd like the city either to make the connections itself or provide some financial assistance.

Terrace Stewart, director of Dallas Water Utilities, has heard their worries and is working to find some way to make the transition less painful, perhaps by extending the amount of time businesses will have to switch connections to the new lines. State law prohibits spending funds on private property, however, and simply putting the new lines where the old are would be irresponsible, since maintaining them under existing buildings would be tough, if not impossible.

Stewart hopes to come up with some compromise solution before bids for the project are sought, but says the work has to be done, regardless. The sewers under Deep Ellum are some of the city's oldest and, like the beer soaked patrons of Deep Ellum, they've got to go. (Oops. One more.)

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Patrick Williams is editor-in-chief of the Dallas Observer.
Contact: Patrick Williams

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