A new plan unveiled this week would bring water and wastewater service to 61 areas in the city of Dallas that lack the basic utilities that are commonplace elsewhere. (Read the plan at the bottom of this article.)
But some residents who been hearing utility service promises for decades will be asked to keep waiting.
Herman Embry lives in one of those areas. His home on Royal Oaks Drive was once was the city of Kleberg but his neighborhood was annexed into the city of Dallas back in 1978.
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“When the washing machine is running, you don’t flush the commode. It will run over,” Embry said.
That’s because his neighborhood still has no city sewer lines. Instead, he and 53 other nearby homeowners have septic tanks in their yards. There are city water lines, but no city wastewater service.
“We'd all love to get rid of these septic tanks. They fill up and run over. Then it costs $350 to have it pumped out,” Embry said.
A Dallas City Council committee received a briefing this week on the new plan to spend about $3 million of city money each year to install water or wastewater lines into neighborhoods currently without them.
Councilman Tennell Atkins, who represents Herman Embry’s neighborhood, said the work is long overdue.
“I have been talking about this ever since I came on the council back in 2007,” Atkins said.
The list of 61 areas is an improvement from 125 that were unserved in 1998 when the city began working on the issue, according to Assistant Dallas Water Utilities Director Richard Wagner.
Dallas Water Utilities conducted a detailed analysis of all 61 areas.
Wagner said in a City Council Committee meeting that a priority is to connect occupied areas first.
“One of the major goals of this program is to provide these services to our residents so that ultimately we don’t have any septic systems in the city,” Wagner said.
But Embry’s far Southeast Dallas neighborhood with 54 occupied properties is not at the top of the list.
Instead, the highest-ranked area for new utility service is in far Southwest Dallas off Camp Wisdom Road. That neighborhood, called Mesquite Heights, is mostly junkyards and vacant land. It has just nine occupied properties, according to the city records.
Officials said there is talk of new development and that elevated it in their selection criteria above Herman Embry’s area.
Dallas City Council member Casey Thomas who represents Southwest Dallas replied with a text to a request for comment about putting new utility service in Mesquite Heights.
“I’m not aware of any developer expressing interest in that area. While I have double-digit underserved areas in my district, City Council member Tennell Atkins has twice as many,” the text from Thomas said.
Dallas Public Affairs Spokesperson Nichelle Sullivan responded to a request for information with an email.
"The Department of Sustainable Development and Construction was recently approached by a property owner with plans of building a single-family residential home in Mesquite Heights. In addition, DWU was recently approached by a developer inquiring about service for potential retail development in the neighborhood. Also, during the construction of a water main extension in Mesquite Heights earlier this summer, DWU personnel were approached by a few property owners inquiring if they could connect to the newly installed water main," the e-mail said.
Herman Embry and 53 neighbors in the Kleberg area are asked to wait another year in the new city plan.
“I’m not surprised. I’m not surprised,” Embry said.
When new wastewater lines are installed, residents could be asked to pay thousands of dollars for pipes on their private property to connect.
“I can’t afford nothing like that,” Embry said.
Officials are talking about help for residents with those connections, too.
It’s something Herman Embry has been looking forward to for 22 years.
“I would love to have a sewer line. And we flush anytime we need to flush, run the washing machine altogether. That would be nice, that would really be nice,” Embry said.
With the money available, it could take the city of Dallas 10 more years to reach all the unserved areas.