2017-12-07 / Local News

Empire sewer costs vary from $1.9 to $8.6 million in study

Committee still studying sewer report
By Patti Brandt Burgess
Of The Enterprise staff

A Wastewater Committee in Empire is nearing completion of a feasibility report to determine whether the village needs a municipal wastewater system, how big it should be and how much it would cost.

The bulk of the report consists of a wastewater study done by Gosling Czubak Engineering that includes costs for three defined ‘districts’ within the village — all of the village, the village commercial zone, and the central village area including the commercial zone.

Construction costs outlined in that study set a range from $1.9 million to $8.6 million.

The study also looks at different types of wastewater systems that can be used and the pros and cons of each. Costs for construction and operation and maintenance of the systems are also included.

Gosling Czubak was paid $9,600 to do the study.

The final Wastewater Committee report will also include an assessment of the current sewer situation in Empire, the per person and per household costs of a sewer system, and whether there is an environmental and economic need for a sewer system in the village.

John Collins, chair of the Wastewater Committee, said the Gosling Czubak study is a draft and has not yet been approved by the Village Council. The committee’s final report will be completed in the next couple of months, he said.

Nor is construction of a sewer a foregone conclusion, he said.

“In the end we’re going to put it out for public comment in the village,” Collins said. “We want everybody’s comments and feedback.”

Other Wastewater Committee members declined to comment for this story.

Collins, along with developer Jim Bagaloff, is a part of Empire Associates, which owns three buildings located on about three acres on Lake Street in downtown Empire.

The group has received a groundwater discharge permit from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for a private wastewater treatment system that would serve the three buildings. They are now looking for investors to develop the property.

Some village residents and officials say a municipal sewer system is needed to protect the environment, attract business and to capitalize on the nearly 1.7 million visitors that head to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore every year.

The village also needs public restrooms, residents have said.

The downtown area has several buildings that have been empty for many years. Those buildings can’t be developed because they sit on lots that are too small for today’s health code requirements for drain fields, sewer proponents have said.

Another empty building may soon be added to the mix, as Deering’s Market has been put up for sale. The store is owned by Phil Deering and village Trustee Sue Carpenter.

“Because of the size of the store, which is a little big for the village of Empire, and the lack of customers we can’t continue to operate,” Carpenter said. “It’s not economically viable.”

Carpenter said the store’s septic system — which she said is working fine — has nothing to do with their decision to sell. Carpenter said she is not for or against building a municipal sewer system. She wants to see all of the data first.

“Can we afford a sewer?” Carpenter asked. “Everyone operates on the edge. I certainly wouldn’t want to take on a sewer for all the businesses who are sitting on the edge.”

She said adding a sewer could also turn the village into something people may not want.

“You could really change the vibe of Empire,” she said.

Carpenter said she has also seen in other communities how actual costs of a sewer are far higher than estimates. Northport and Suttons Bay communities are served by municipal sewer systems, as are the villages of Leland and Lake Leelanau in Leland Township.

Empire Village resident Mary Sharry is a proponent.

“Empire needs a sewer system or at least a wastewater treatment system,” Sharry said. “I feel we’re becoming a village of summer rentals with no one to mind the store. In fact, there’ll be no store. It’s a sad day in town here.”

The Gosling Czubak study looked at both treatment and collection alternatives for each of the three districts, or scenarios. In addition, both gravity and septic tank effluent, or STEP, systems were studied.

The study has identified 289 residential units and 28 non-residential connections in the first scenario considered, the entire village.

Under this scenario, capital costs range from $5.8 million for a gravity collection system to $7.3 million for a STEP system. A lagoon treatment system would range from $7 million using a gravity system and $8.6 million for a STEP system.

Annual operation and maintenance costs for scenario one range from $110,000 to $209,000.

In scenario two, which would encompass only the commercial zone, some 46 residential and 25 non-residential connections are probable. Capital costs are estimated at about $1.9 million for both gravity and STEP systems, with annual costs estimated at about $73,000 to $76,000.

In the third scenario, which includes the central village and the commercial zone, there are 149 residential and 25 non-residential connections. Capital costs are estimated at about $2.9 million for a gravity system and about $4 million for a STEP system, with annual costs ranging from $83,000 to $102,000.

Both scenario two and three include the National Park headquarters off M-72 and St. Philip Neri Catholic Church on South LaCore Road.

Lagoon treatment systems were not considered in scenario two or three, as the low number of users who would be contributing to the cost would make the project financially infeasible, the study found.

All costs outlined are estimates and could change, the study says.

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