More than 50 Barton Lake area residents crowded the Schoolcraft Township Hall last month to hear a presentation by Alan Smaka of the engineering firm of Wightman & Associates for a sewer around the heavily populated lake.
Smaka walked the audience through the reasons for the proposal: The South County Sewer and Water Authority (SCSWA) in 2013 asked his firm to explore options to extend sewers through the area. Wightman agreed to do the work at no up-front cost with the understanding it would be compensated for the study efforts if and when a project proceeds.
Wightman was charged with coming up with a fresh perspective, Smaka told the audience. How would a sewer system look if the communities started over with an independent treatment plant? Sewage from the communities is piped to Kalamazoo for treatment. Wightman initially looked at ten different alternatives with prices for each, along with the operation, maintenance and replacement costs. The numbers Smaka gave the audience do not include any funds that might come from grants, which are possible and will be pursued through several agencies. The various cost options presented are dependent upon which areas petition to have sewers constructed.
The fees being considered include a monthly rate ranging from $35 to $45 for each residence or residential equivalent unit (REU). A parcel fee assessment of $1,000 would be charged to every buildable lot, improved or vacant. The proposed benefit fee assessment ranges between $7,800 to $10,500 per REU and would be paid by any user who connects to the system. Residents would be required to hook up and abandon their current septic tank and hookup, which could cost from $750 to $2,000.
Questions focused on how long the roads would be torn up, would any trees be sacrificed, and would lawns be in the path of the construction. Smaka estimated the underground work would take about three months around Barton Lake. Roads would be torn up because that is typically where sewer lines are run. It would take about one day for the sewer main and leads to be installed in front of any individual property.
Some residents spoke vehemently against the cost, especially if they didn’t live on the lake. Some adjacent residential areas west of the lake have been included in the plan. But when a show of hands of those in support was asked for, many were raised. No official count was taken.
To move the project forward, those in support of the project around the lake would need to circulate petitions within the next 60 days, Smaka explained. If owners of more than 50 percent of the total land area in the proposed assessment district have signed the petition calling for the project, the petitions will go before the Township Board for approval.
Residents who don’t want the sewer were advised by Smaka not to sign the petitions.
Don Ulsh, Schoolcraft Township supervisor, told the audience that their board would not force the project. “It needs to come from the residents as a grass roots effort.”
Smaka has appeared at the Schoolcraft village council meetings two times to explain the concept. He will be on the village of Vicksburg’s council meeting agenda in July. A third informational meeting for residents of Sugarloaf Lake may be held in August. That is another targeted area for the project. Howard and Black Lake were not included in the final study findings as their lake associations didn’t respond to an initial letter of inquiry.
A second presentation at a Schoolcraft Township Board meeting is expected at 6 p.m., Tuesday, July at the township hall.