2016-09-29 / Front Page

Empire reverses, to study sewer options

Only village without a system
By Patti Brandt
Of The Enterprise staff

A wastewater feasibility study for Empire, the only incorporated village in the county not served by a municipal sewer system, has gotten the thumbs up.

The Village Council Tuesday night reversed course, hiring Gosling Czubak Engineering to complete the study at a cost of $9,600.

The study will help determine if the village needs a wastewater system, how big that system should be and how much it would cost. It’s expected to take six to nine months to complete.

Residents have voiced opinions for and against the study.

Those in favor have said it’s needed for the environment and to encourage business. Members of a committee that has been considering construction of a municipal sewer system for several months say the downtown area has several empty buildings that can’t be used because lots are too small for today’s septic field health code requirements.

And the small village has swelled with an increased number of visitors in recent years. Public bathrooms are needed, council members have said.

A motion to have the study done was turned down on a vote of 3-3 at last month’s council meeting, even though the council had budgeted for the study.

Trustees Lanny Sterling, Chris Frey and Soni Aylsworth approved the motion, while Village President Sue Carpenter and trustees Sam Barr and Dan Davis voted “no.” Gerry Schiffman was absent.

Tuesday’s vote was unanimous, with last month’s “no” voters saying the community had many questions about the study that have since been answered.

Carpenter said it was not clear to many residents that the village was only doing a study.

“A vote to do the study is not a vote to do a sewer by any means,” Carpenter said.

The wastewater study will define three ‘districts’: All of the village, the core village area including the commercial zone, and just the commercial zone.

Costs for construction, operation and maintenance of sewer systems that might serve each area will be provided. The study will also look at different types of systems that can be used and the pros and cons of each.

John Collins, who is one of six residents who sit on a wastewater committee, said there is a folder of paperwork at the library and at the village office that identifies and clarifies what the committee is doing and what the study will cover.

Those with questions are encouraged to look through it, Collins said.

Teresa Howes, who is also on the committee and on the Empire Village Planning Commission, also presented a work plan that identifies the focus of both the committee and the engineering study.

Lisa Fought, a senior rural development specialist with the Great Lakes Rural Community Assistance Program (RCAP), has also been acting as a consultant for the project. The federal program offers no-cost assistance and training to help smaller communities address their drinking water and wastewater infrastructure needs.

Suttons Bay and Northport villages also are served by municipal sewers. The Northport system, which was built in tandem with Leelanau Township, was controversial when built in 2008, and remains a point of contention for many residents. It’s residential hook-up fee is $16,588. Village officials, however, say the system sparked a commercial resurgence.

Leland Township also operates a municipal sewer system serving the unincoporated villages of Leland and Lake Leelanau that was also controversial when built in the 1990’s. Portions of Elmwood Township are served by a sewer system operated by the Grand Traverse County Department of Public Works.

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