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Unincorporated neighborhood finally getting sewer service

Max Whittaker/Prime Arleen Hernandez frequently has to unclog her backed-up shower because of the aging septic tank at her Parklawn home.

The unincorporated neighborhood of Parklawn, one of hundreds of impoverished California communities that lack basic services, celebrated a breakthrough this month when Stanislaus County broke ground on a new sewer line connecting the district to the city of Modesto.

Parklawn, which has grappled with deficient septic tanks for about 60 years, is an unincorporated island of county territory nearly surrounded by Modesto. Around the state, such densely populated unincorporated neighborhoods on county land have long suffered from government neglect and lack some combination of sewer systems, clean drinking water, sidewalks, streetlights and storm drains.

“After decades of struggling with failing septic systems, Parklawn will finally realize a dream that most of us take for granted – an adequate wastewater system,” said Phoebe Seaton of California Rural Legal Assistance’s Community Equity Initiative. “Individual septic systems have proven grossly inadequate. Leaking and leaching wastewater threatens the groundwater and human health, damages homes and hurts property values.”

The organization sued the Stanislaus County in 2004 on behalf of Parklawn residents and later worked with the county to find funds to upgrade the neighborhood’s antiquated infrastructure.

Without access to a sewer system, wastewater in the neighborhood of 328 homes pools in yards and backs up into bathtubs, residents said.

Construction of the sewer line will cost $5.5 million. So far, the county has secured $1.2 million in federal funds. State redevelopment funds earmarked for the project were rescinded after the state's redevelopment agencies were dissolved last year. The county will seek additional funds from the state and is considering whether to create a local assessment district to complete the project.

Parklawn is the last unincorporated residential community in South Modesto to receive a connection to city sewer services, said Stanislaus County Supervisor Jim DeMartini, who represents Parklawn.

“I’m so relieved that it got started,” he told California Watch. “We are committed to getting this thing done.”

DeMartini said the sewer connection will help improve the neighborhood’s infrastructure so that it eventually can become a part of Modesto and receive all city services. “Annexation is the goal,” he said.

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