Barton Lake Sewers Debated

Barton Lake area residents attended the second of two information sessions on the proposed sewers to encircle the lake.
Barton Lake area residents attended the second of two information sessions on the proposed sewers to encircle the lake.

By Sue Moore

Over 40 citizens who live on and near Barton Lake flocked to the Schoolcraft Township Hall for a second time to hear Alan Smaka present the rationale and costs for constructing a sewer system around the lake.

Smaka is the engineer from Wightman & Associates, the firm retained by the South County Sewer and Water Authority (SCSWA) to propose additional sewers in lake areas and the villages of Vicksburg and Schoolcraft.

He has presented the facts at a Schoolcraft village council meeting and at Sugarloaf Lake, and is scheduled to attend the Vicksburg village council meeting in September. Although Vicksburg operates a sewer system, it sends all effluent to Kalamazoo for treatment. The authority is investigating the possibility of building its own plant to treat sewage and thereby control costs by not having to pipe it through the city of Portage to get to the Kalamazoo treatment plant.

Many in the audience at the township hall held strong objections to being forced to hook up if a system was constructed that went past their front door.

Don Ulsh, the township supervisor, made it clear to the audience that if the parcel owners don’t want the sewer, they should not sign the petitions that will be circulated by those who do want it. The township board would be charged with making a final decision to proceed with the project if more than 50 percent of the landowners around the lake sign the petitions to go forward.

The details can be found on the Wightman web site at The site contains a mountain of information to wade through to get to the actual costs for the lake owners. As Smaka cited them in short, they are:

  1. Annual or monthly rate: $480 which can be prorated to $40 monthly. It pays operational, maintenance and replacement costs each year.
  2. Parcel assessment fee: $1,000 with annual cost of $52.42. Can be paid up front over the life of the bond which is 1% over the bond rate, assuming 4.25 interest rate on the assessment.
  3. Benefit fee assessment: a range of $8,500 to $10,500 which equates to $400 or $500 annually. Can be paid over a 40 year period.
    1. Between these two fees together per REU (#2 & 3) if paid over time, it will add $450 to $550 to the yearly tax bill.
  4. Connection to the system: $1,275 which includes money to crush existing septic and fill it in which varies on each site’s situation.

Some questioned how the engineer could know exact costs up front. They voiced a fear that no matter what is said now, costs will always increase.

Smaka indicated his numbers include replacement, maintenance costs and inflation over the next 40-60 years. The actual costs would also depend on how many communities the system hooks up. A grant is being prepared to submit to the U.S. Department of Agriculture by his firm that would allow people to pay less. But there is no assurance of receiving the grant, so his numbers do not reflect any help from the government. There is some relief for the elderly, disabled, and low income citizens, he said.

Greg Feldmeier, township trustee, made one of the more impassioned speeches in support of the project, even into the teeth of those who were loudly objecting. He lives on Howard Lake and told the audience, “Green lawns make green lakes. Austin Lake is a good example. Every lake he knows about with septic put in has improved” after completion of a sewer project. He went on to talk about Kalamazoo’s treatment plant. It has aged; the area has lost much of its industrial base. More money is now needed to run the system, and costs will continue to increase to outlying areas. Having a newer system will be more efficient. The economics of it make sense, he said.

Another in the audience offered rebuttal. “The needs of a few increase the cost of the many.” The objections kept things lively, especially with the feeling that costs are too prohibitive.

Bob Sacksteder countered with an impassioned speech of his own, having been a lake resident for many years. He said he has seen a lot of pressure on the lake through his volunteer work in testing for the Lake Association and Michigan Department of Natural Resources. These pressures include the golf course development, public access, asphalt, and the amount of trucks traveling over the rebuilt bridge on Portage Road. “It’s a lot of money, but with the sewers, maybe we can save the environment. It’s up to each of us to decide.”

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