USDA FOIA Request filed

Comments have been made, falsely, that those who have requested a referendum vote on the proposed issuance of a $1.8m Bond debt for the Village of Bear Lake water system do not have the best interests of the community at heart.

Also false fears have been raised about the ‘well going dry’ – when the Water Reliability Report clearly states: ”

The existing wells are not in imminent danger of failure, however, it is recommended that the Village begin planning to eventually replace the existing wells…

The capacity of the wells is lower than the previous water system evaluation because the Village completed a substantial water project in 2010 and 2011 which included a new water tank that was installed at a higher elevation than the old water tank to boost system pressures. The additional system head created by the new water tank slightly reduced the pumping rate of the wells.

Improvements were made to both wells during the 2010-2011 water system improvements project. The control systems for both wells were upgraded and both wells were inspected and cleaned as part of the project. The well cleaning improved the efficiency of both wells, however, during post cleaning performance testing it was noted that Well #2 was pumping air at flow rates over 217gpm. The post cleaning performance testing for Well #3 found that the water level drawdown was at least down to the top of the pump bowls. Well #3 did not pump air during the testing, but the operation of the pump with the water level approaching the pump bowls is not ideal.

The firm capacity is calculated by removing the capacity of the largest pump from the system. The pumping capacity that remains is the firm capacity. The Village of Bear Lake has a rated firm capacity of 195 gpm. The MDEQ recommends that the firm capacity meet or exceed the maximum day demand. The Village’s historic maximum day demand (over the past 5 years) was 134 gpm, which is 69% of the firm capacity.”

See: tl41R01 NOTICE of 30 days to file a Corrective Action Plan from the State of Michigan Department of Treasury.statedeptoftreasury

To:

Michelle Collins  Acting Area Director – USDA, Rural Development

Sonya Trudgeon  FOIA Coordinator –sonya.trudgeon@mi.usda.gov

3001 Coolidge Rd., Suite 200

East Lansing, MI 48823

cc: Rural Development • Traverse City Area Office

Blake Smith- Area Specialist – blake.smith@mi.usda.gov

1501 S Cass St, Suite A • Traverse City, MI 49684

cc: U.S. Department of Agriculture  email: program.intake@usda.gov

Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights

1400 Independence Avenue, SW

Washington, D.C. 20250-9410

cc: Village of Bear Lake President  Jeffrey Bair. Village of Bear Lake Clerk Cindi McPherson – bearlakeclerk@gmail.com

P. O. Box 175, 12376 Virginia Street, Bear Lake, MI  49614

NOTICE:

Under Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 1996 (E-FOIA) and USDA regulations (7 Coded of Federal Regulations, Part 1, Subpart A) and Michigan Freedom of Information Act Public Act 563 of 2014

Request for electronic copies of documents relating to Village of Bear Lake proposed water system improvement project.

On behalf of the citizens of the Village of Bear Lake, Manistee County, Michigan I am requesting, under Michigan Freedom of Information Act Public Act 563 of 2014, and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 1996 (E-FOIA) and USDA regulations (7 Coded of Federal Regulations, Part 1, Subpart A),
electronic copies of the following documents:

  1. Dates, times and those in attendance at any and all meetings between USDA, Rural Development, Village of Bear Lake Council Members (or their representatives and agents) for the period 2013- current date.
  2. Any and all correspondence, documents, contracts, notifications between USDA, Rural Development, Village of Bear Lake Council Members (or their representatives and agents) within the same time frame.
  3. Notification of final satisfaction of award conditions and actual agreement of award of funds for Village of Bear Lake proposed water system improvement project.

RATIONALE:

On July 6, 2016, the Village of Bear Lake placed a single display advertisement in the Manistee News Advocate (see attached notice 7-6-16)

notice070616

The text clearly stated the following:

“Right of Referendum: The Bonds will be issued without a vote of the electors approving such Bonds, unless, within 45 days from the date of publication of this Notice Of Intent, a petition, signed by not less than 10% of the registered electors residing within the limits of the Village shall have been filed with the Clerk of the Village or other recording officer of the Village requesting a referendum upon the question of the issuance of the Bonds.”

40 verified signatories filed said petition, within the 45 day period, with both Cindi McPherson Village of Bear Lake Clerk and Deanna Pattison, Bear Lake Township Clerk who will be the election administrator. There are 223 currently registered voters in the Village of Bear Lake.

The petition was formatted to include both printed names, signatures, full address and date of signature. Cindi McPherson Village of Bear Lake Clerk signed to acknowledge receipt on August  5, 2016.

The stated purpose was:

We, the undersigned registered voters of the Village of Bear Lake, oppose the issuance, (as noted in the July 6 published “Notice to issue water supply system Revenue Bonds”) of any and all Revenue Bonds as permitted under Section 33 of Act 94 (1933 as amended). We oppose the $1,800,000 figure as stated, including the guarantee of the Village of Bear Lake General Fund for 40 years, and call for a Referendum Vote of the electorate of the Village of Bear Lake to review, approve, deny or amend the Water System Project as proposed. This petition will be presented to the Village Council within the 45 day window as noted in the July 6 publication of the “Notice to issue water supply system Revenue Bonds” in the Manistee News Advocate.

In light of the erroneous comments made concerning this petition, I am listing here the reasons for both that and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 1996 (E-FOIA) and USDA regulations (7 Coded of Federal Regulations, Part 1, Subpart A)  and Michigan Freedom of Information Act Public Act 563 of 2014 – Request for documents.

  1. The petitioners simply wish to exercise their legal right to decide on the commitment of funds.
  2. Without submission of said petition, the electors would have lost all recourse to contest the issuance of bonds.
  3. The electors have concerns about the fiscal responsibility and ability to issue this Notice of Intent when the State of Michigan has listed the Village as non-compliant in filing a timely audit and being in a state of fiscal noncompliance for the past 3 years. (see attached letters from the state of Michigan [see above])
  4. The electors are unwilling to give approval for debt for the following reasons:
  1. when no information about the final cost of this project has been conveyed – other than through documents received by individuals via FOIA
  2. no definitive interest rate has been determined as no final documentation of approval has been supplied
  3. the length of debt repayment, 40 years, is twice the expected life span of the proposed infrastructure
  4. the debt repayment figure – estimated by USDA RD at @$65,000 per year – has not been calculated per capita but seems to indicate $38 per month
  5. The current cost of operations of the Village of Bear Lake Water System is @$47,000 and translates to an intended fee of $45 per month.
  6. At no time have Village residents been given an opportunity to thoroughly evaluate the project as proposed or given an accurate per monthly rate, including a proposed meter fee and base gallons allowance.

In reaction to the petition, statements have been made that the signatories are opposed to the water improvement project.  This is not true.

The residents and tax payers of the Village of Bear Lake are opposed to THIS water project as proposed, and the manner in which it has been brought to this point in time, largely in secret.

An independent engineering review of the project has raised many concerns:

  1. No consultation with the previous Wellhead Protection Committee – as this water system is served by an unconfined aquifer, with known contamination issues noted in the 10-15 year delineation. This is puzzling.
  2. Lack of any evidence of consultation with the Water Superintendent.
  3. Lack of consultation with the Fire Department.
  4. Concern that the project has been promoted as a means to obtain a commercial ISO rating when the Reports note this may not be possible due to the undersized water tower (only constructed in 2010)
  5. Lack of consideration that improved commercial coverage may not be possible until the removal of dangerous buildings within the commercial district.
  6. Service for a, as yet unknown, commercial redevelopment should be incurred by future
    developers.  Rather than being incurred by the current 286 Village residents with a noted mean average income that meets USDA RD for poverty.
  7. Lack of public transparency. Particularly during 2014. Residents should not have to file a FOIA request for basic information about a project that is slated to commit $1.8m +, + an additional $7-900,000 in interest – committing all income from water fees (currently @$56,000) plus guaranteeing the General Fund (current income – @$124,000) for the next 40 years.
  8. Why were no RFPs issued for preliminary reports or engineering services?
  9. Lack of evaluation of alternative funding sources and mechanisms
  10. Dismissal of prior 20 year asset management and upgrade strategy.
  11. Significant questions of the advisability of debt funding for 40 years of infrastructure with an expected lifespan of only 20 years.
    USDA themselves stated in your letter of March  11, 2016:
    It is expected that O&M will change over each successive year and user rates will need to be adjusted on a regular basis”
    It is inevitable that future repairs and replacements will also require additional funding in excess of the required set aside fund.
  12. Grave concerns related to the lack of calibration of existing wellhead pumps and meters, which calls into question the accuracy of any data reported. The lapse in calibration service is noted in the engineering reports.
  13. Factual errors in both the Environmental Assessment and Preliminary Engineering Report such as failure to take into account the volume of water supplied on a daily basis to a 400+ person K-12 School and an inflated gpdc figure.
  14. Grave concerns at the lack of determination of an alternative aquifer source.
  15. Grave concern that two new, increased capacity, wells are proposed to increase supply from an existing unconfined aquifer adjudged by the Preliminary Engineering Report to be ‘sucking air’ during summer months.
  16. If in fact there are instances when the wells are drawing down to an untenable level, why did the Village refuse to distribute water conservation literature as supplied to them from USEPA WaterSense? Why does the Village not enforce its own summer watering hours?
  17. Not including the cost of locating, drilling and bringing to operation a new well at an estimated depth 3-4 times deeper than the current aquifer.
  18. Lack of concern for neighboring private well owners who are also served by the same aquifer.
  19. Lack of acknowledgment that an increased draw will trigger a Water Withdrawal request to the State of Michigan.
  20. Lack of consideration of the seasonal fluctuation in population and its effect on the system flow.
  21. Not including, as part of the per capita figures of 286 population, a daily influx of 400+/- individuals at Bear Lake K-12 School
  22. Not including, as part of the per capita figures of 286 population, the operation of a municipal public RV and recreation Park during the months of June-September. (Including multiple stand pipes, drinking fountains, public showers and toilets)
    It should be noted that the increase in water usage during June-August, as noted in both the Environmental Assessment and Preliminary Engineering Reports, coincides with the operational months for the Village of Bear Lake Hopkins Park. A recent spot check documented a leaking standpipe losing 140 gallons per day.
  23. Not considering the decline in numbers and the increase in age of Village population. This is a static demographic mostly living on fixed retirement income.
  24. Not designing a program of repairs and replacements to meet the needs of current population.

Respectfully, this is why the electorate requested a referendum vote –

  1. To acquire basic information of the scope and financial viability of the proposed project.
  2. To propose valid, affordable alternatives.
  3. To do so by issuing Request For Proposals to determine the most cost effective way to manage and upgrade the Village of Bear Lake water system.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions. 

Regards,

Property owner Bear Lake, MI 49614

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