BCRSD Board Meeting Notes, Tues Feb 14, 2023 County Sewer Plan

we the people declaration and flag

Updated Feb 24, 2023

Brown County Regional Sewer District (BCRSD) Board Meeting Notes, Tues Feb 14, 2023. Location Jackson VFD – Helmsburg.

This post and comments at Brown County Matters. Feb 20 2023 Email to Commissioners and Council – Oversight Responsibilities

  • Part 1 Business Meeting. Audio 24 minutes
  • Part 2 – Discussion. This started after the business meeting ended.   Audio – 30 minutes

Admin Notes – Background Info

    • Board Members: Mike Leggins (President), Clint Studabaker (VP/Project Lead), Phil LeBlanc, Richard Hall, Matt Hanlon.  (LeBlanc and Hanlon not present). Hall not present for part 2 of the meeting.
    • Next meeting. Feb 28, 2023. Joint meeting of the Helmsburg and Brown County RSD. Location TBD.  The map that identifies phases and coverage areas is expected to be ready to distribute to the public.
    • Meeting Announcement. The state requires public announcements of public meetings 48 hours in advance. Announcements including date/time/location should be posted at the location of the meeting. If locations vary, the announcement could be posted at the county office building. In addition, announcements can also be shared with the local paper and provided at the BRCRD Facebook page and website.
    • BCLN. The aim for our system of government (a Constitutional Republic) with rights granted by the creator, is to work together towards a “more perfect” union and county.  This requires that you ask citizens how they define more perfect and the information they need to determine if any change results in improvement. Methods for supporting this aim are provided through the Brown County Leader Network.
    • Guidance on Making and Defending an Argument (aka critical thinking).
    • Service Life of a septic system?  A report by the Environmental Protection Agency concluded that “conventional septic systems are designed to operate indefinitely if properly maintained.” (EPA 932-F-99-075). The Presby Corporation has also identified a similar finding: “If the system is designed, installed and maintained properly, there is no limit to the life expectancy of Enviro-Septic Technology.”  GUEST OPINION: More evidence needed that sewers necessary by Tim Clark
Suggest listening to the audio – Part 2. (Link below – some profanity). Board members present were Studabaker and Leggins. To his credit, Studabaker was very clear regarding his agenda on replacing septic systems with sewers throughout the county. His bias, passion (some might call zealotry),  and oversight on the development of the strategic plan and water quality study raise some doubt about the independence and objectivity of the reports.   Further, not holding a public meeting where citizens can ask questions of the consultants can further undermine any confidence citizens may have in the BCRSD Board and their consultants/contractors.
    • Soils. Studabaker contradicted state policy on soils. He stated that 100% of Brown County Soils are not conducive to septic systems.  The state has identified the accepted criteria for soils and requires soil sampling before the county grants a septic permit.  The response by the contractor developing the Preliminary Engineering Report (PDER) was that this situation was similar to the federal government’s tobacco issue where the federal government subsidized tobacco farmers that produced a product that was detrimental to health.
    • The implications?  That residents with septic systems are polluting the environment and breaking the law????    What effect (sales/re-sales) will this operating assumption have on existing and newer homes that may never be within an area supported by sewers?  Should the “county” (if legal) put a freeze on all new septic permits and require a shift to pump and haul?  Should the county lobby the state to correct its policies on Soils?  Should residents and visitors be informed about potential environmental hazards?  Or better yet, why not confirm the assumptions with the State along with independent and objective analysis before pushing personal agendas?  

Priority.  Phase I of the current project (Lake Lemon to Bean Blossom Area was estimated at $30 million in 2020 as part of a Regionalization Study.   The documented and valid need (aging plant, failing systems) for sewer service is the Helmsburg to Lake Lemon Corridor. This should be the priority for immediate funding and construction and has the support of the new customer base and Monroe county.

The BCRSD could not obtain land from citizens for a new plant in the Bean Blossom area. Thus  the need to rely on the new/expanded Helmsburg plant. It has been estimated that the BCRSD  needs 190 easements in the Bean Blossom area from a customer base that may not be supportive of the project.  Any need to evoke eminent domain to acquire an easement may be problematic.

Another motivation for expanding sewers is development supported by the core leadership of the local Republican party. I define core leadership as those that identify policy (formal or informal), speak out at public meetings in support of new development projects, and have an influence over the selection of candidates and appointees for offices. Brown County has a one-party monopoly on political power which can undermine the needed checks and balances on power.

RSD Power. Further, the BCRSD Board and its policies are independent of county elected officials whose power is limited to appointments and providing any requested funding.  The major funding comes from the state and the feds.  The power granted to an RSD and its potential abuse should be concerning to all. For instance, an RSD can force a hook-up. In Helmsburg and Gnaw Bone, hookups are voluntary.

Audio and Meeting Notes

Audio – two parts.  Part 1 was the meeting and Part 2 was the follow-on discussion by two members of the Board (Studabaker and Leggins) and two members of the public – Jacob Adams and myself (Tim J. Clark).  The discussion was insightful, informative, and heated at times.

    • Part 1 Business Meeting. Audio 24 minutes.
      • The meeting starts with a discussion and approval of invoices. Some discussion at the end on the steps needed before construction begins.  One of the requirements is a public hearing.  The map that identifies the phases of the project and areas to be supported may be available on Feb 28 where it will be discussed at a joint meeting of the Helmsburg and Brown County RSD Boards.
    • Part 2 – Discussion. This started after the meeting ended.   Audio – 30 minutes
      • Strategic Plan and Water Study. Studabaker confirmed there would be no public meetings on the Strategic Plan and Water Quality Study where the public could ask questions of the authors of these studies.  Any questions can be sent to Studebaker who stated he would provide a response.  These studies cost over $100,000 – the majority from grants provided by ROI via the State and included some matching funds from the county.
      • Elected Officials. Commissioners and Council have also not been briefed on the Strategy at a Public Meeting. The scope of the plan is not addressed in the County Comprehensive Plan which represents the voice of the citizenry.
      • 30 Million Plus. The Sewer Projects represent the largest investment in county history. The commissioners/council have provided over 570K to the BCRSD.
      • Cost effective Options.  Discussion included concerns on the scope of the project (30 million plus) and consideration of other options that would have less of a financial burden on citizens.
      • Costs to customers can include hook-up costs (over 1,000?), monthly service fees (65.00 -85.00?) and possibly monthly fees during construction. The life-cycle maintenance costs that will increase, will be another added cost.
      • Other Options?  Helping people repair and replace existing systems that may be inadequate.  Pump and Haul is an option allowed by State law.
      • County Gentrification?  Given a low to moderate income level at 53.1%, (2017 study), the additional costs may be a burden to many forcing them to sell.
      • Development Interest. The desire of the few to promote the expansion of sewers to support commercial and residential development was also mentioned and briefly discussed.
      • E-Coli.  Animal/Land (the majority) and Human caused. Brief discussion on the need for better livestock management and fertilizers practices. Some failing septic systems may also be a contributor.  The number of failing systems contributing to the problem is unknown.
    • Failing Systems?  Mike Leggins stated that 75% of septic systems are failing. He has no evidence that supports his statement.  The prior two board presidents acknowledged that they had no data identifying failing systems. I suggested that if he was sure of his assessment, the BCRSD should initiate inspections and obtain a warrant if necessary.  it may be most unlikely that a judge would find probable cause on speculation and anecdotes.
    • Soils and State policy.  As stated above, Studebaker has contradicted state policy and stated 100% of soils in Brown County are not conducive to septic systems. Yet, the state identifies soil-related requirements along with soil testing before a new septic permit is approved by the county. No mention that the county has a significant issue with not being able to provide septic permits.  No documented direct evidence of failing systems.
    •  Studebaker references the lack of septic records. Per Leggins, records and permits not required prior to 1978 and policies were not consistently enforced.  Information is not available on how systems may have been repaired or replaced over time.
    • Studabaker referenced a  report by the state on enteric disease but these state reports do not identify a cause which would include eating and drinking contaminated food and water.  (17:09).

A Way Ahead — Elected Officials

The statements, actions, positions, attitudes, and beliefs expressed by Clint Studabaker could be considered as an opportunity to review/revisit the value expected from the BCRSD board and its appointed board members.  The overall situation also warrants more oversight from “elected” representatives from the board of commissioners and council that could include attendance at every BCRSD board meeting.   At a minimum, a public meeting on the presentation of the County Wastewater Strategic Plan and Water Quality Study by the contractors is critical in informing the public on the premise of major changes that will affect their quality of life. The plan and study provide the foundation for the applications for funding (PERs).

PER/APPLICATIONS FOR FUNDING. The target date for the Preliminary Engineering Reports (PER) developed for the Helmsburg and Bean Blossom expanded area is March 31, 2023. A PER (which is required for funding) does require a public hearing. Councilmen and Commissioners should plan on being present.  The council and commissioners can also take a formal vote at one of their meetings in support or opposition to the scope and direction of the BCRSD board, its wastewater strategic plan, and PERs.

OPTIONS. On a way ahead, options could include limiting the first phase of the proposed sewer project from the Helmsburg to the Lake Lemon corridor. Given the aging Helmsburg sewer plant, the high cost of existing service to Helmsburg customers (92.50 a month), failing systems (200+) in the Lake Lemon area in flooding conditions, documented support of the customer base as well as the support of Monroe County officials, this option would lead to a needed and more immediate success. Opposition from residents in the Bean Blossom plus area (and likely legal action) may lead to delays if this area is included in a first phase.

Another option could include converting the BCRSD Board to an advisory committee and expanding the HRSD board. Given the population density in the county, an RSD representing a respective area (Nashville, Helmsburg, Gnaw Bone) supporting less centralization can be more appropriate and responsive to respective area residents.

COMMUNITY (AREA) LEADERSHIP. Helmsburg also has a Community Development Corp (CDC) where residents have identified a plan for development in their area. An update of this plan could be included as an addendum to the County’s Comprehensive Plan and serve as an example (model) for the other areas in the county that want a voice for what they consider to be in the best interests of their quality of life.  A CDC could be started in Bean Blossom to give residents a direct voice regarding the future of their area.

OPPOSITION / LEGAL ACTION. An expansion of sewers in the Bean Blossom expanded area where landowners refused to provide land for a sewer plant and where it has been estimated that 190 easements may be needed, will likely be problematic. The need is based on a false premise including “record-keeping speculation, assumptions, and anecdotes and along with any BCRSD actions, that may include eminent domain, legal action may be likely. Further, the actions (threat?) that the BCRSD will work with the USDA in challenging livestock and fertilizer practices in the area with the intent to reduce E-Coli levels, may lead to even more opposition.

The projected 30 million plus (phase I) of the sewer projects is most likely the most expensive investment in county history. The motivation for the project has included the desire for development that has been reinforced by elected officials when granting additional funding for the BCRSD.

COUNTY COMPREHENSIVE PLAN. By statute, the County Comprehensive Plan is the voice of the residents as to what they want and do not want in terms of development and associated zoning as well as what they consider to be supportive of their desired quality of life.   Development and approval of the comprehensive plan required public hearings. The County Wastewater Strategic Plan and Water Quality Study were contracted by the BCRSD board and developed under the direction of  Studabaker.  The funds for the study came from the state via the Regional Opportunity Initiative (ROI). It was developed without ANY public hearings or meetings.  Studabaker declined to have the plan presented at public meetings and has identified that any questions on the plan and water study should be directed to him.

IN SUMMARY, major changes that have a direct effect on the financial security of our residents may include creating conditions forcing them to relocate can be contentions, and may lead to conflict.  An income survey in 2017 identified that 53.1% of our residents are at the low to moderate income level. Adding additional costs – especially given the country’s economic situation including high inflation, are a concern to all.

Major changes must be supported with a clear, compelling, understood, justification that is clearly communicated to the citizenry.  At a minimum, the presentation of the Wastwater Strategic Plan and Water Quality Study should be offered to the public before any public hearing on a presentation of the PERs. Further, the legality of proposing a major and costly strategy that is not addressed specifically in the County Comprehensive Plan should be reviewed.

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