GUEST OPINION:  Septics and Sewers -major changes proposed

Guest Opinion to be published in the Brown County Democrat, Wednesday, Aug 25, 2019  GUEST OPINION: Septics and sewers — major changes proposed By Tim Clark

In his August 13, 2019 guest opinion column in the Brown County Democrat, What you can learn at the county’s Septic Summit, Brown County Regional Sewer District (BCRSD) board member Clint Studabaker reinforced the importance of septic system maintenance and raised issues that should be of concern to all Brown County citizens.

I highly recommend attendance at this educational event on September 3, 5-8, p.m. at the Brown County Fairgrounds.  Given that approximately 90% of residences are on septic systems, education should be a recurring event in the county.  I think we all want a healthy and safe environment as well as elected and appointed leaders that can credibly define the scope and extent of a problem before proposing major changes.

Mr. Studabaker references results from a non-statistically-based survey supported by the Brown County Community Foundation that was conducted in 2008. This survey identified concern for the effectiveness of septics and sewers. He mentions that more information was gathered in 2009 and then used in the “Vision 2020 Plan.”  He then uses this information to infer that there is a need and a problem that could present health issues – an association that is misleading.

For instance, the past two BCRSD board presidents stated publicly that research was needed to determine if there is evidence of a documented need e.g., failed septic systems, in the Bean Blossom area.  Another myth has been in regard to the quality of the water in Cordry and Sweetwater Lakes. Water samples required by the State Board of Health have consistently shown minimal E.Coli in the water. An independent assessment of water quality indicates that the lakes rank as the #2 and #3 clearest lakes in the States indicating that the conservancy’s plan for managing septic systems is proving effective.

Note also the vision 2020 “plan” was a private-sector plan supported by the Community Foundation and the Brown County Partnership. The partnership was dissolved due to lack of participation and commitment from elected representatives. The 2020 plan was not a county comprehensive plan. A county comprehensive plan has to meet state requirements, which includes official public meetings, and approval of the plan by the county commissioners. Approval by the county council for any associated project funding is also a requirement.

Of significant importance is that major changes are being made and proposed for wastewater treatment strategies (sewers and septics) in Brown County that will affect almost “all” residents to include those that are buying and selling homes. This may be great news if you are a realtor, developer or in the septic system business. It may not be so welcome if you are at the low to moderate-income level, have a functional septic systems and/or expect the least intrusion from your government.

Mr. Studabaker is at the forefront of the septic and sewer initiatives – he is the primary leader of the BCRSD board that is proposing a wastewater treatment plant for Bean Blossom. He is also a member of the committee that worked on the proposed new septic ordinance. Mr. Studabaker has also written a grant proposal for a Wastewater Infrastructure Strategic Plan for the county which if accepted, can be a useful document if it follows accepted practices for fact-based analysis.

The Bean Blossom sewer project is now projected to be operational in 2021 – much longer than anticipated when the project was first announced at the BCRSD board meeting on June 19, 2018.   The board has spent approximately $170,000 of the $270,000 of “seed money” provided by the county council. The BCRSD has yet to acquire land and the latest strategy has been trying to acquire land deeded to Parks and Recreation. The letter to the Parks and Recreation Board from Ladd Engineering included the requirement to provide information on the Uniform Relocation Act of 1970: When a Public Agency Acquires Your Property. The brochure provides guidance on the government’s power to invoke eminent domain.  Some elected officials have also expressed a desire to withhold funding if Parks and Recreation did not approve a land transfer.

Parks and Recreation rescinded their vote to approve a transfer of land for a wastewater treatment plant. There may also be legal issues associated with a transfer that would also result in additional clear-cutting of the proposed site. Eminent domain is the tool that can be used to acquire “private” land “if ” a project is considered to be an important public good. Nashville used eminent domain to acquire the land for their sewer plant.

I continue to be concerned over the lack of due diligence and transparency on the Bean Blossom sewer project. Due diligence includes defining the scope and extent of the problems before proposing solutions. On the issue of transparency, I had to submit a formal complaint with the State to obtain public records from the BCRSD board. I recently made a follow-up complaint with the public access counselor who is working on the issue which involves a simple request – a review of the list that contains the names of the customers. The BCRSD board also promised a website in June of 2018 that would be used to keep the citizens updated on the ongoing status of the project – a website that is not yet available.

A review of the proposed septic ordinance indicates that it is too similar to the last two attempts and I will recommend that this revision should also be rejected by the public.

Fortunately and due to Mr. Studabaker’s initiative, the State Regionalization Assistance Program has recently approved the application for a $30,000 grant by the Helmsburg and the Brown County RSDs to conduct a regionalization study to identify the best options for the county in regard to wastewater treatment and location of plants. Completion of this study is due by the end of the year.

Mr. Studabaker has an impressive private sector resume. However, when you are using taxpayer dollars to fund projects, expectations and standards of performance are much higher in the public sector. Standards include transparency, comprehensive planning, due diligence, and earning the trust, respect, and confidence of the community.  Major mistakes in the private sector can lead to firings, lawsuits, and bankruptcies. Similar mistakes in the public sector often result in higher taxes, less revenue for projects with a valid need and a citizenry that lacks trust in local government.

I hope you can attend the Septic Summit and will also stay informed on the sewer and septic issues and proposed changes. How these issues are addressed will have significant impacts on our quality of life as well as on the cost of living in Brown County.

Tim J. Clark
Tim J. Clark of Brown County is a quality improvement practitioner, educator and author who specializes in the public sector. He is a senior member of the American Society for Quality has master’s degrees in strategic studies and public administration. He has served on the Brown County Redevelopment Commission and on the Brown County Schools Strategic Planning Committee. He can be reached at tjclark2036@gmail.com.

More Info: Timeline on the project – Regional Sewer Board – Bean Blossom Sewer Project – For the Record

 

 

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