Joint Meeting Notes – HRSD and BCRSD Sewer Boards, Mar 28, 2023 – Status PERs

Joint Meeting Notes – HRSD and BCRSD Sewer Boards, Mar 28, 2023 – Status PERs

BCRSD Wastwater Strategic Plan and Watershed Study – video presentation and hard copies

 This post and comments at Brown County Matters

Audio of the meeting (1:04:16)

 Attendees. In addition to the Helmsburg and Brown County RSD boards, the meeting was attended by the President of the commissioners’ Jerry Pittman, President of the Council Gary Huett, Councilman Jim Kemp, and a member of the Gnawbone RSD Board. Attendees also included contractors, several people from the Lake Lemon area that support the expansion of sewers in their community, and at least one person from Bean Blossom and Helmsburg. RSD Board members are appointed by the council and commissioners.  Board members of the Gnawbone RSD are “elected” by their customers.

Preliminary Engineering Reports (PER). The PERs are the application for funding. They will be submitted to the State no later than this Saturday “April 1.” Copies will be made available to the public. Public hearings for the PERs are required and are to be conducted within 90 days.  The hearings are a “formality” but citizens can go on the record with their questions and statements in support or opposition. These statements can be shared with the approving officials at the state and federal levels and become part of the record.

Map that identifies the phase.

There are three PERs. The BCRSD PER is for collecting and transporting wastewater from an estimated 700 customers (Phase 1). Helmsburg has a PER to support this phase. Helmsburg also has a PER to support the needed repairs and replacements of their current plant to support their customer base of 68 customers and possibly 8 new customers. This project will be needed if the Phase I project is not funded.

Cost – $50.5 million (Phase 1). The revised estimated cost for “Phase I” is $50.5 million. The corridor to be initially served is from Lake Lemon to Bean Blossom and Woodland Lake (13-mile span). Future expansion will run north and south of this corridor.  Cost is $39 million for collection (BCRSD) and $11.5 million for processing (HRSD).

Brown County Wastewater Strategic Plan and Watershed Study.  Clint Studabaker of the BCRSD reinforced that the plan WILL NOT be presented at a public meeting. Video presentations are available on the BCRSD website and people can submit their questions to the BCRSD via email. The BCRSD board believes this is sufficient. Commissioner Pittman and Council members Huett and Kemp supported this position.  Kemp suggested a future consolidation of all the county RSD boards and that the overall function should be managed similarly to a water utility.  Kemp also suggested there was available office space at the Health Department for the management group.

Kemp as a former president of the RDC was also a vocal supporter of the failed attempt by the BCRSD to build a new sewer plant in Bean Blossom after spending about 200k. The BCRSD was unable to acquire land. The PER for the sewer plant was presented to the public in June 2018.

Kemp also led the development of a County Economic Development Strategic Plan that was approved for funding but not implementation.  Commissioners did not hold any public meetings to allow citizen input on the final plan.  I led the efforts to acquire funding for this plan and participated in about 8 public meetings throughout the county to get citizen input. I was not involved in the actual development of the plan by the contractor.

Quality of the Watershed. BCRSD board member Richard Hall reinforced his interest in improving the watershed. I referenced the contradiction in the strategic plan and water study. The strategic plan stated that the primary source of e.coli has been “humans.” However, the watershed study identifies “pastureland” as the main cause of e.coli.  Studabaker then shouted me down.  The watershed study identifies that if 100% of the septic systems in the county fail, the primary cause of e.coli would still be pastureland.  Of the 22 water samples, only 5 tested as being from humans and only two of these samples exceeded state standards.

It appears that Studabaker may be considering “agriculture” managed by “humans” in his definition of “human-caused.” If so, very creative as well as misleading and informative regarding motivation. This position supports his earlier comment at the Feb 14, 2023 BCRSD Board Meeting, that reducing e.coli from agriculture was also one of “his” goals. I contacted the project manager for the wastewater plan for clarification. Interesting that such an anti-agriculture position would be supported by elected officials.

County Redevelopment Commission (RDC). Councilman Kemp, who was also a former President/member of the County RDC  identified the task assigned to the RDC by the council to assess the impact and economic development potential for sewers.  Vicki Perry of RCAP mentioned that sewers did not necessarily lead to significant impacts in economic development but can sustain the current economic base.  Kemp did reference the connection of the wastewater strategic plan with the county comprehensive plan and zoning in support of economic development.

County Governance and Leadership.  The intent of the wastewater strategic plan is to sell a narrative that supports the expansion of sewers. The motivation for service in Bean Blossom supported the interests of a few for economic development.  This was “the priority” for the BCRSD documented in their PER submitted in June 2018.  When they failed to acquire land for a plant, they had to shift focus to include Helmsburg and Lake Lemon, This area does have a valid need as opposed to a justification based on speculation and conjecture.

The wastewater strategic plan WILL NOT  result in reducing the main causes of E. coli in our streams – pastureland.  The 50.5 million dollars estimated cost for “phase 1” is most likely the largest cost/investment in county history. There has been little to no interest by our elected officials in updating the County’s Comprehensive Plan to provide citizens with a voice on what they want and do not want in terms of economic development and quality of life.  Major decisions are made by the few and the centralization of power tends to be corrupting as well as addictive to those wielding this power.

The county comprehensive plan should clearly identify what citizens want and do not want in terms of quality of life and economic development. This plan supports zoning. There has been no interest in the county for any updates to the plan or any longer-term planning to anticipate future development trends be they positive or negative.   As it stands now, a good argument can be made for or against a specific project which creates the perception that approvals can be based on who you know.  Final decisions can also be determined by how many people show up to fight for their respective positions.

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