By Sue Moore
After several months of discussion, the Schoolcraft Village Council took another step toward deciding if it will build a sewage disposal system.
In a 6-1 vote, it approved a resolution asking the Kalamazoo County Drain Commissioner to establish a drainage board to oversee the project. It was noted in an earlier discussion that the resolution does not commit the village to go ahead with the project. It could opt out at several steps along the way.
The lone no vote was cast by Trustee Todd Carlin.
Council members want to keep their options open while they seek more precise cost estimates for the project.
So the vote to go forward was a necessity. Schoolcraft, Brady and Pavilion Townships are also included in the formation of the drain board. Then it’s up to each government to determine which properties and businesses would be included in the cost analysis. Once that’s settled, Trustee John Stodola pointed out, the village will be able to apply for loans and grants through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), giving residents more precise information about costs. Schoolcraft Township has already passed the resolution.
The resolution provides for a public hearing for citizens to voice their opinions on the project and the special assessment district that it would create. This could take place at a village council meeting as early as November or December. Another council vote would be required to decide if it wishes to move ahead after the public hearing, still without knowing the final costs to each individual or business.
Consultants Wightman & Associates, under a contract with the South County Sewer and Water Authority, would then apply to USDA-Rural Development for a loan and any grants that might be available. That information might be forthcoming within 90 days of the application being filed, Wightman’s spokesperson indicates. Council members understand that an opt-out it still possible at this point of the process.
Resident Max Hutchinson told the council he had researched a proposed sewer project in Bloomingdale, Mich. The village took a similar route toward the sewer system, then opted out. The village was sued by Wightman to recover costs. Hutchinson said he had documents that showed the village and the consulting firm settled on a payment of $100,000.
That statement seemed to be the basis of Carlin’s no vote as he worried that Schoolcraft would be subject to a similar suit if it decided to stop the process at a future time. It was agreed to ask legal counsel for the details on this action by Wightman before the drain board is created.
Village President Keith Gunnett explained to a questioner from the audience that he couldn’t come up with a good answer to what kind of support would be needed from the state and federal government to move forward. “We just want to find out if we are eligible. We have looked at the numbers and know they are changing. We are trying to strike a balance on how big the project would be. If we [the village] are less wealthy, then maybe we can apply for more grants. The most vulnerable people have the most tools to utilize,” he said.
Trustee John Stodola cited the need to know the scale of the project. “When I sat out in the audience [as a private citizen] I was only thinking about my house and the cost. Now that I’m up here, I have to think about the whole village, the churches, the school, the people it affects.
“It all depends on how many people participate. There is a system for doing this. We need to take a vote to see if we want to proceed down this road. I move to go ahead.”