2017-06-15 / Local News

Private sewer sought by Lake Leelanau shoreline owners

Conservancy on board
By Alan Campbell
Of The Enterprise staff

There was little disagreement among a room-full of township residents who Monday evening discussed the need for a common drain field to serve the 34 lots on Sunset Shores.

But the anticipated cost, which was established at more than $21,000 per lot in a three-year-old study, is bound to be much higher today, even proponents of the project say.

And the legally required title work may constitute an impenetrable road block.

Those were some of the discussions held at the Leland Township Board meeting Monday after the proposed community drain field was placed on the agenda at the request of Sunset Shores residents including Pete Taylor. A divided Township Board voted 3-2 to hold the first of two required public hearings needed before a special assessment district can be formed to finance the project.

Owners of lots within the district would pay for the project, with up-front money for construction provided through a bond sold with the backing of the township.

Taylor said the project could become a model for other neighborhoods along the Lake Leelanau shoreline where private septic systems built in poor-draining soils are under performing.

“There’s an opportunity to do this in other places,” Taylor said, addressing the Township Board. “When you look at the cost of this solution compared to other solutions .... this is very inexpensive compared to putting in a sewer.”

The project even has the backing of the Leelanau Conservancy, which owns the nearby Narrows Natural Area. The Conservancy is offering to provide a portion of the property to host the community drainfield necessary for the project.

Executive Director Tom Nelson said the Conservancy’s Board of Director supports the project, although he stopped short of saying that the fallow field eyed for the drainfield could be used without charge.

“The water quality of the lake, north and south, is at stake ... this is not just for the property owners along the shoreline,” Nelson to the Township Board.

The proposal found some level of support among all five board members, although only trustees Tony Borden and Michael Collins and supervisor Susan Och voted to hold the hearing.

Clerk Jane Keen was wary of asking other township taxpayers to fund much of the legwork needed to get the project off the ground. At one point she estimated that the legal costs along could come to $10,000, and purchasing easements needed to for infrastructure could cost $90,000. Those types of expenses could not be recouped from property owners within the district, she said.

“I want everybody to know that (an original project estimate of $363,500) is not what this will cost,” Keen said.

She added, “This is my job, to protect the money I’m suppose to watch. That’s why I’m playing devil’s advocate.”

Taylor said that 28 of the 34 property owners within the district are on board. The assessment district can legally created with support of 50 percent or more of affected property owners.

However, other obstacles emerged during the meeting:

• The project itself emerged from a community discussion initiated by the township Sewer Commission, which in January 2014 was advocating for expansion of the township sewer to provide capacity for growth and to fund staterequired updates to the municipal drain fields off Popp Road. The Sunset Shores proposal, created by Jozwiak Consulting, was based on estimates that are now outdated.

• Getting easements from property owners who may not be interested in joining up could be a problem. The community drain pipe would cross from one property to the next on its way to the field on the Conservancy property to the south and east. One uninterested land owner could foil the project.

• Even the private road to the properties presents a question mark. Discussions at the meeting indicated that the owner of the road right-of-way is opposed to the project. Trustee Borden, an attorney by trade, suggested that a letter be sent to the landowner explaining that condemnation would be considered for the common good of residents.

“We obviously have to do some due diligence on this, but the value of doing this is very high ... We know there are issues with a lot of old septic systems on the lake. This is one way to deal with that.”

Collins reserved comments until just before the vote.

“I see a lot of benefits with this system, and a lot of confusion over costs ... this has been in the works for eight years. I see benefits. The process requires the first public hearing. There is no downside to having the hearing.”

Borden’s motion to hold the hearing carried a cap of $5,000 in expenses that could be incurred by the township, with funds to come from the township’s General Fund contingency.

That wasn’t enough to sway Keen.

“In order to make that decision we need harder numbers ... I’m not comfortable having a hearing until we know what those numbers are,” she said.

A public notice will be published in the Leelanau Enterprise with the date of the hearing, which was not set Monday by the Township Board.

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