When Gilbert staff first addressed the problem of a deteriorating sewer along the Western Canal, they hoped to avoid using eminent domain to acquire land to fix the problem, staff told residents Feb. 25.

However, as the town studied and worked with a firm on designing a relocation of the town’s sewer, wastewater and water lines through the canal corridor, it became apparent that such a solution would not work out, Town Engineer David Fabiano said.

Fabiano’s comments came during a special Gilbert Town Council meeting to discuss Phase 2 of capital improvement project WW1060, the “concrete pipe gravity sewer rehab” project.

The town is in the process of acquiring parts of the backyards of 24 homeowners whose properties on Hemlock Avenue, Commerce Avenue and Honeysuckle Lane back to the canal’s corridor between Burke Street and Lindsay Road for the project.

The project is to fix a deteriorating section of 36-inch sewer pipe that runs along the Western Canal, about 20 feet below ground, on land that is owned by the residents but for which the town and electric utility Salt River Project have easements—a legal right to cross or otherwise access someone’s land for a specified purpose.

Council unanimously approved the acquisitions in a public hearing Nov. 10 that covered several items at once and was opened and closed simultaneously without discussion.

The problem is making the two easements work together so the town and the SRP can meet the needs of maintaining their respective utilities. Fabiano said the town pushed the SRP to allow them to relocate the line in the corridor, but the SRP continued to say no.

That led the town to consider other solutions to repair the sewer pipe and prepare for future repairs to the wastewater and water pipes, Senior Project Manager Jason Montgomery said.

The town concluded what it called an “in-place solution,” which involves using maintenance holes to put a “cured-in-place pipe” sleeve inside the pipe to reinforce it, was the best solution. But because of the location and access to the holes, as well as the need to do spot repairs involving excavation some places along the line, the solution requires land acquisition from property owners.

Staff members told residents that all of the studied solutions require at least some land acquisition. Some of the maintenance holes are enclosed in the homeowners’ yards.

No action could be taken at the meeting. Residents, however, were given the opportunity to ask questions of staff and council about the project.

The homeowners continued to push against the idea the town could not get adequate access from them to their yards, even expressing a willingness to tear down walls and build gates. Some suggested legal actions they could take would make the project costlier than working with them on a different solution.

Commerce Avenue resident Stacy Adams asked council to vote to reconsider its decision, an action any council member could call for since all of them voted for the acquisitions.

Fabiano apologized to homeowners that the solution caused a big impact on them, but he called it “imprudent” from an engineering standpoint to tear down walls and put them back knowing they would have to be torn down again for future projects years down the line.

Wastewater Manager Ken Snow added the town needed better access and visibility to maintain the lines and avoid emergency situations.

Mayor Brigette Peterson thanked the homeowners for their input and said the decision is a difficult one.

“All I can say as your mayor now is I'm not here to plan just for the four years that I'm in this seat or potentially more, but I'm planning for the next 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 100 years of this community,” Peterson said.