So, on Wednesday night, dozens of residents sighed in relief when township officials approved the construction of traditional, gravity-based sewers in a section of the working-class neighborhood - completing a project started and left unfinished 20 years ago.
The cost of the million-dollar project will be borne by all 70 homeowners, who will pay upward of $14,000 each.
"At least, someone is finally paying attention," said Rich Coleman, a Newtown Heights resident who frequently pays $225 to have his raw sewage trucked to a disposal site.
Members of the Newtown Municipal Authority voted 3-2 for the project, after heated discussion among board members, state Department of Environmental Protection officials, and residents over the merits of different types of sewer systems.
Lisa Jacobs, a board member who voted against the proposal, said: "I don't know what we are voting for. We have no plan in place for the gravity system."
The Newtown Heights neighborhood, which has more than 200 homes, has changed little since it was built in the 1920s. Many of the homes built as cottages on quarter-acre lots remain untouched and are tucked behind large trees and shrubbery on hilly streets.
Some septic systems in the area began acting up long ago, and in 1980, township officials persuaded the Radnor-Haverford-Marple Sewer Authority to allow residents to tie into its pipelines.
Two-thirds of the neighborhood had been connected when the costs began to mount and the work stopped, leaving 70 homes stuck with aging septic systems. Township officials promised to return and finish the job, but nothing was done until residents complained in 1998.
By then, the sewer authority balked at admitting the homes, saying they were outside of its service boundaries. But on Wednesday, township officials said the DEP promised to push the project through because the situation poses a public health hazard.
The gravity-based system was chosen over a newer technology favored by some residents, which uses a powered system. Although it would cost less, others argued it was prone to breakdowns and would require more maintenance.
P.J. Close, an engineer for the municipal authority, said work on the sewer system could begin this winter and might be completed by June 2002.
Residents probably will be required to lay out some of the cost up front, with most of the debt being paid off through monthly sewer bills. Some of them might be eligible for interest-free loans available through the Delaware County Housing Rehabilitation Program.
Although most of those paying for the system have no need for it, no one in the neighborhood is complaining. Residents acknowledge that a public sewer system will raise their property values and protect them from future problems.
But, mainly, they have agreed to chip in because their friends down the block are suffering, they say.
"It's a very close community," Newtown Heights resident Joseph Standen Sr. said. "I don't have any problems, but my neighbor does."
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