Joint Meeting Sewer Boards, Feb 28, 2023

we the people declaration and flag

Joint Meeting – Notes – Helmsburg  (HRSD) and Brown County (BCRSD) Regional Sewer District Boards, Feb 28, 2023.   Audio 53 minutes.

THE MESSAGE?  The message from the BCRSD Board can be perceived to be “Don’t buy, live in  or sell any property in Brown County that is not or cannot be hooked on to a sewer system.”   The basis for this allegation (message) endorsed by the BCRSD Board is that 100% of county soils are not suitable for septic systems and 70% of septic systems in the county are failing.  Reference: Feb 14, 2023 Board meeting notes and audio.

    • This “message” is contradicted by state and county policy, practices, and documentation. The state has identified acceptable criteria for the condition of soils before a septic permit is granted. The county has the flexibility to accommodate conditions for needed repairs and site limitations.
    • The EPA has concluded that  “conventional septic systems are designed to operate indefinitely if properly maintained.” (EPA 932-F-99-075). Presyby Systems have also stated that their septic systems can also have an indefinite life.

PRESENTATION  of the Brown County Wastewater Strategic Plan and Water Quality Study. There is no current plan by the BCRSD Board to present (and defend) “their” plan and study to citizens at a public meeting.  This would allow the public to ask questions of the authors of the plan and study.  I have asked our commissioners and council to direct the BCRSD to provide this presentation at a public meeting – stay tuned.

COSTS. $60 Million for about  800 customers and costs are expected to most likely increase before any construction begins.  A Regionalization Study in 2020 for providing sewer service in the Lake Lemon to Bean Blossom and Woodland Lake corridor was estimated at 30 Million.  BCRSD Phase I total costs are $39 million (rounded) that include the following:

    • West of Helmsburg:  $24.8 million, 475 users. Helmsburg to Lake Lemon.
    • East of Helmsburg: $14 million, 219 customers  (Bean Blossom to Woodland Lake)

HRSD Phase 1 Costs include:

    • $5 million to replace the failing current plant. There are 61 customers currently. There is potential to add another 7-23 customers within the expanded HRSD territory.
    • $15 Million to expand the plant to accommodate the new customers provided by the BCRSD. The total number of new customers to be served is  694.

A Map of the area to be covered in Phase I  is available and posted to the BCRSD website.  The monthly rate of customers was estimated (2018)  in the $65-85 range. Helmsburg customers now are paying $92.50 a month. A rate study for the monthly costs to be charged to customers is being developed for the HRSD and BCRSD.


Helmsburg to Lake Lemon. Estimated costs are $44.8 million. The Helmsburg plant replacement and upgrades supporting service to Lake Lemon should be the funding priority. This area has a valid and documented need, e.g., an aging plant, 200 failing systems in flooding conditions, and high monthly costs for current customers ($92.50). There is also documented support from new customers.

Bean Blossom. The need in the area East of Helmsburg to include Bean Blossom and Woodland Lake is circumstantial. Justification is based on the belief that 100% of soils are bad, an assumption that 70% of systems are failing and there are no other alternatives other than sewer hook-up.  Allegations are derived from the estimated age of systems and availability of records. Water samples indicate that “some” systems may be failing. Records were not required prior to 1978. The soil testing requirement was added later (90s?).

EVERYONE ELSE?  The BCRSD estimated that there are over 8,000 septic systems in the county. Phase I includes less than 800 customers, “New” developments may increase the customer base in the area covered by Phase 1.  Asset management plans are now being required by the State and will help identify the expected increase in costs to customers as a result of future costs expected for maintenance, repairs, and replacement.

It is a fact that “some” septic systems installed before the newest standards and technology were developed may not be providing a “perfect level” of treatment or be in compliance with current policies. And, based on the installation date (before 1978), citizens were not required to have records on file or conduct soil testing prior to installation.  The county health department has identified acceptable soil standards and expected levels of septic system performance for repair/replacement options for existing homes.

ANALYSIS OF ALTERNATIVES. The BCRSD Board has not shared any analysis of alternatives regarding repair/replacement options of existing systems with the public or its elected leaders. A “one-size-fits-all” solution is the only one that has been shared with the public.

NEXT MEETING. The final drafts of the Preliminary Engineering Reports (PERs) that will include the final drafts of the estimated costs, are expected to be completed by April 1, 2023. These will be discussed at a joint meeting on March 28, 2023, 6:00 p.m. at the Brown County Community Foundation – lower level. Public Hearings will be required before the PERs are approved by the state for consideration of funding.

SOILS. As mentioned above, the BCRSD Board has supported the allegation that 100% of the soils in Brown County are not suitable for septic systems. This is in contrast to State statute and policy that requires soil testing. The county policy continues to approve the installation of new systems when testing indicates that the soils are suitable.

Failing Systems?  Note that by state and county policy, failing systems are required to be repaired or replaced. Pump and haul is also an option that allows residents to remain in their homes. The county Health Department has not identified any documented evidence of wide-scale failures. Water sampling does indicate that some septic systems may be failing. The number of these systems has not been identified.

Mike Leggins President of the BCRSD has acknowledged his commercial interests in expanding sewer service in Bean Blossom. He continues to state his opinion that 70% or more of septics in the county are failing.

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