By Sue Moore
Feelings about a proposed sewer project were running high even before a public meeting was held by the Schoolcraft Village Council in early September. Todd Carlin, village council trustee, felt the request for approval of sewer petition language was moving a little too fast at the pre-meeting in the village hall. “We have never talked about [the petitions] as a council. This is not just routine business, it’s the biggest issue yet in my five years on the council,” he said.
Trustee Mike Rochholz countered, saying that plenty of discussion had gone on in committee. Trustee Dorothy Clark went further to clarify that nothing would happen at the council level until the petitions were returned. “We need to get the petitions out [in the public] and then determine whether we go ahead or not.”
Keith Gunnett, village president, explained that the subsequent public meeting was to inform, after which residents could circulate petitions. “It will be the people saying whether we go forward or not.” The motion to accept the petition language as prepared by lawyers for the South County Sewer Authority (SCSA) passed with Carlin voting no.
The Schoolcraft Performing Arts Center was about half full with residents of Schoolcraft, Barton Lake, Sugarloaf Lake and Vicksburg to hear more details about the proposed sewer construction for south Kalamazoo County. Alan Smaka, the Wightman & Associates representative, was there to present the facts, Gunnett told the assemblage. “This newest proposal is the cheapest and is unlike any other of the past three proposals that have been put before us. Having our own treatment plant allows us a voice in the costs considering the grossly unfair prices charged by the city of Kalamazoo,” he said.
Smaka walked through the process of determining what the costs of the potential project would be to the landowner. The estimates depend to some degree on how many of the lake area residents, the villages of Schoolcraft and Vicksburg, and the US 131 corridor decide to sign the petitions and move forward. Fifty percent plus one is required to indicate a positive response to the local boards that have to make the ultimate decision to go ahead. He also listed the financing options for property owners and the potential for obtaining grant money in the form of a loan from USDA, but told the audience that the estimates he presented were based on zero grant or loan money.
“When does money leave our pocket if this goes through?” one member of the audience asked. Smaka felt that Phase One costs would appear on winter tax bills in either 2017 or 2018. Phase Two would likely be charged in 2018/19. He predicted that the petitions to know if there was support, would be returned by the Christmas holidays from the various proposed service areas, so it would be 2016 before any official action could take place.
Several people wondered why they would be required to hook up if the system ran by their house, especially if they don’t want to be a part of the sewer system. “We shouldn’t be forced to hook up,” one or two angry citizens stated. Smaka explained that it won’t be possible to build a sewer system unless all homeowners and businesses are required to hook up.
A few in the audience braved the somewhat hostile atmosphere to say they felt it was a good thing, especially a resident from Vicksburg who lives on Sunset Lake. “When our lake residents were required to join the sanitary sewer system, it cleaned up the lake a lot. I’ve lived on it for 65 years and have watched this happen.”
A Schoolcraft businessperson spoke in favor, citing village pride, especially with businesses which would benefit from having such a system. “We are all interconnected,” that person said. “We need to look more closely at this opportunity, as it won’t be as likely to ever come along again.”