Two Lakes Sewer Proposal – update 10/14/18

A combined Special Meeting was held at Bear Lake School on October 3, 2018 – however no action was taken as neither Bear Lake Township or Village had a quorum present.

This meeting posed several issues of concern and the following information comes from individuals present as the Minutes are not available at https://www.onekama.info/two-lakes-collaborative-sewer-proje

A FOIA to receive both the Agenda and items for discussion has been filed both with Onekama and Bear Lake Township. A request for information from the Village was politely declined by the Village Attorney with the following notation:

November 15, 2017:  Concerning the request for public records from the Two Lakes Sewer Authority, that Authority is a separate public body, distinct from the village.  Therefore, any FOIA request for information from the Authority must be submitted directly to the Authority.

However the Two Lakes Recording Secretary referred FOIA requests back to the individual units of government.

It should be noted that the Village representative to the Two Lakes Board, Village President Jeff Bair, is the actual Board Secretary.

Of serious concern is the inability of those who could not attend in person, by virtue of being either disabled or non residents, and who had specifically asked for the reasonable accommodation to attend by speaker phone. They were unable to do so as the line was not opened until 30 minutes in to the meeting. From that time on the only speakers in use were via cell phones making it impossible to make out conversations.

A claim was made that this was an oversight due to a line being accidentally muted.

Here is the recording played for 30 minutes (edited) until a TXT was sent to the Bear Lake Township Supervisor.

A specific request was made by a non resident to receive a full transcript – another specifically asked for the meeting to be recorded and made available. No response has been received. The Minutes are not currently published at https://www.onekama.info/two-lakes-collaborative-sewer-proje

Actions reportedly taken at the meeting are troubling.

  1. The Village has revised it’s assessment map but audience members were told that it would only be available between the hours of 1-3 at the Village Hall. This document has been requested previously and falls under the terms of a Bear Lake News 6 month FOIA subscription – to receive as a PDF. The Two Lakes Sewer web site is still showing the Three Lakes Sewer maps.
  2. The Village has not released the results of it’s survey designed to indicate those pro or con the project.  Audience members left confused as to who was in or out of the newly redrawn district and who would be paying for the eventual project.
  3. Although a fully comprehensive Feasibility study is available from the 2003 BLPUA Sewer proposal – the Village, Bear Lake and Onekama Township propose to appropriate $7,500 each toward a new preliminary engineering study.
  4. Mr. Bair indicated the Village would have to make that payment in increments as the Village has financial issues.
  5. No mention was made of how to pay for additional legal or administration fees.
  6. Two individuals, not named, attended by a separate speakerphone but audience members could not hear what was being discussed.

As noted previously, Village residents are being unfairly financially impacted as their property taxes are being used both from the Village and Township General Fund.

Of concern to Bear Lake News is that this highly contentious, expensive and community altering project seems to be taking shape in private meetings or being legislated via social media.

The Two Lakes Sewer Authority Articles of Incorporation state it  is governed by the Michigan Open Meetings Act and the handling of its funds by the Michigan Municipal Finance Act. At the October 3, 2018 meeting it finally established its own bank account to sever the commingling of funds at Onekama Township.

An accounting to this point was requested.

TLSA GL (Click to open PDF)

Beliefs and discussion is trending toward the same level of animosity, misdirection and obscured motives that plagued both prior sewer proposals – exacerbated by lack of information and lack of civility on social media platforms.

Those in favor state:

  1. The project is needed to protect lake quality
  2. The project is needed to promote economic investment
  3. The project is needed to enable young families to live and work here.
  4. Those opposing the project are ‘naysayers’

Those against state the obvious:

  1. There is no documented issue with lake quality – amply proven from official testing results dating back to 1999.
  2. The real threat to lake quality comes not from individual wastewater systems, many of which have been upgraded at considerable expense since 2003, but from storm water run off from unbuffered lake front properties and the storm drains entering Bear Lake from US31 etc.
  3. That a failing septic system discharges up to 175 gpd. of wastewater effluent to a soil area. There are no direct discharges to Bear Lake. A failing sewer lines leaks thousands if not millions of gallons as evidenced in nearby Frankfort – http://www.9and10news.com/2018/03/27/deq-explains-impact-suspected-cause-betsie-bay-sewage-leak/
  4. If constructed the TLS would cost home owners a minimum of $75 a month, every month, for 40 years, excluding the proposed additional hook up and abandonment costs. To properly maintain an onsite system costs approximately $300 – at most every 3 years or approximately $8 a month
  5. Seasonal property owners, many of whom are here barely 2-3 months at most (some for barely 2-3 weeks) will be unfairly, disproportionally financially penalized – paying for a massive engineered system .
  6. A central sewer is constructed for maximum capacity – too low a flow (evident in seasonal communities) impacts costs, increases wear and tear on pumps, possible freezing or anoxic conditions in the conveyance system.
  7. Opponents point to the concern that once constructed – a central sewer takes away control over treatment fees. The TLSA will not own the treatment plant- and therefore be subject o whatever fees may be charged.
  8. Opponents point out that, though development may be a desired outcome, that, in itself, poses serious implications to a complete change in the character of this community. Once in place a sewer removes any impediments to density of development – and none of the participating communities have the financial resources to fight an expensive zoning appeal.
  9. When multi million dollar decisions are based on wishful thinking – i.e. a central sewer is vital to economic growth – it would be wise to pause and ask the difficult ‘what if’ questions?
    1. What if the developer withdraws – or once in place – leaves.
    2. What of the hoped for influx of new residents doesn’t materialize
    3. What if the current trend of this being a seasonal community continues or expands
  10. Of more relevant concern is the diversion of aquifer and watershed recharge to both Bear Lake and Bear Creek wetlands.

In a prior article, Bear Lake News posed the question “Where does our water come from – and where does it go?”

Understanding groundwater hydrology and the importance of protecting the Village drinking water aquifer was the purpose of the Wellhead Protection program.

For those who may be squeamish about where water comes from, we have all been drinking dinosaur pee for thousands of years! But the WHP proved that the water in our Village aquifer drained from the surface less than 45 years ago – – or, to put this in perspective, sometime around the date we started humming Don McClean’s “American Pie” or witnessed the withdrawal from Viet Nam. If you are 45 years old you’re drinking the water that fell as rain on the day you were born.

That’s how vulnerable our groundwater source is – and it’s not drawn from some pristine underground cavern, but from a series of sponge-like soil formations – totally dependent on how much rain falls in any given year. And totally vulnerable to what is happening upstream.

The greatest objection to the current sewer proposal comes from those concerned about water depletion – about paying to pump water in then paying again to pump it out and away from  groundwater that feeds the Lake and the Watershed.

The water system construction project – estimated to cost Village residents $2,093,302 (0ver 40 years) – is designed to pump 35,333 gallons per day. (See the Water Engineering Report)

At present this is directly contributing to the recharge of Bear Lake and, via the Outlet, Bear Creek and Bear Lake Watershed.

Should the sewer be constructed – this will be redirected to the Manistee Lake Watershed.

Combined with the gallons per day usage identified in the previous Preliminary Engineering Study (click on link to read) – 37,020 gpd from Bear Lake Township and 48,660 gpd  from Pleasanton Township (32, 400 gpd drains in to the Lake, the remainder drains toward Bear Lake Swamp) ……

  • That constitutes an estimated loss of 104,753 gpd
  • Or 37,292,068 gallons per year
  • To understand the implications see https://water.usgs.gov/edu/watercycle.html
  • Or https://water.usgs.gov/edu/mgd.html
  • You’ll understand the data better if you can visualize how much a million gallons is. A good-sized bath holds 50 gallons, so a million gallons would be 20,000 baths.

  • If you were a swimming-pool builder and a customer asked you to build a pool that would hold a million-gallons, then they had better have a big yard! You would need to build a pool about 267 feet long (almost as long as a football field), 50 feet wide, and 10 feet deep.

  • 1 Mgal/d = 1.121 thousand acre-feet per year
  • 1 million gallons = 3.0689 acre feet
  • Water Quality Investigators found in 1994 that Bear Lake was 1,843 acres and up to 24 feet deep. About two-thirds of the lake is shallower than 20 feet.

  • The flushing rate of the lake is approximately 2.19 years (Water Quality Investigators 1994). 

Bear Lake is indeed an asset – but how to protect it is not an easy fix. It would be well to ask three basic questions:

  1. Who benefits
  2. Who pays
  3. At what cost

We can do better than this and the technology exists to do just that.

The Village Council meets on Wednesday October 17, 2018 at 7 pm.

Conference Call-In to listen to monthly council meetings can be done by calling 1.302.202.1107, Conference code 149002.  Note:  a charge from your phone carrier could apply.

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