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Assemblyman Richard A. Smith, R-Hamburg, Wednesday night recalled digging smelly septic sludge out of ditches in the Highland Acres neighborhood where he grew up.

Many of the 148 homes in the area just north of Rush Creek still have failing septic systems that overflow into the creek, and make their way to Lake Erie at Woodlawn Beach.

Abbott Parkway resident Tom Hore recalled that he and Smith first asked the state for help in building sewers in 1955.

Now, 42 years later, residents are being handed their best chance at getting sewers, with a grant and loan expected from New York state.

About 200 people packed the Big Tree Fire Hall Wednesday night to hear the details on a proposed Highland Acres Sanitary Sewer District, which would have to be established before the sewers could be constructed.

While many live on small lots that cannot accommodate up-to-date septic systems, they were put off by the cost of the sewer project.

It would cost the owner of a $60,100 house approximately $482 per year, plus a onetime cost of connecting to the sewer, which town officials estimated at $1,500 to $2,000.

The annual cost includes $195 a year for 20 years to pay off the bonds, $35 a year for town sewer maintenance and $252 a year for sewage treatment.

Town Engineer Gerard M. Kapsiak said the hook-up costs might be smaller if a bulk bid could be arranged.

"Your children and mine have put up with this for 42 years. I think for a dozen people who want to go swimming at Woodlawn Beach . . . $2,500 is a lot of money. Some of us can't afford that," Hore said.

Smith noted the area has been asking for sewers for years, but always ran into funding problems. Now there is a chance to get 75 percent to 85 percent of the $2.5 million cost funded through a grant from the 1996 Clean Water/Clean Air Bond Act. The remainder of the cost would be financed with low-interest bonds.

"We tried to tell the governor for a year and a-half, 'Don't open Woodlawn Beach. We've got overflow problems,' " Smith said. "We're the laughing stock because we're dumping our toilets in a bathing beach. . . . I don't want that reputation."

Kapsiak said plans call for 132 of the developed properties to be connected to sewers in the first phase of construction.

"There are a few homes along South Park Avenue and Big Tree that would not initially receive service," he said.

The sewers would flow to the Electric Avenue pumping station and into the Blasdell treatment plant. The treatment charge for the Village of Blasdell is $252 a year, while the Erie County Southtowns Wastewater Treatment plant charges $162 a year, Kapsiak said.

Kapsiak said engineers determined it would be less expensive to tie in with Blasdell than to construct and operate a pumping station to pump the waste under Rush Creek to the Southtowns plant.

But one resident suggested tying in to the county system by going under the Thruway. "With the money we would save it would be a lot cheaper to go under the Thruway (to the Southtowns plant)," Jack Ryan said. Ryan urged residents not to sign on to the sewer district until they know which plant will treat the waste. Kapsiak said Ryan's proposal will be examined.

"The state bought a bad property. Why don't they pick up the whole cost?" Ryan asked.

Forty-nine residents signed a petition Wednesday night indicating interest in the district. Those owning more than half of the proposed district's total assessed valuation must sign petitions for the district to be established.

The proposal is subject to a permissive referendum, Supervisor Patrick H. Hoak said.

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