CADILLAC — Like Clam Lake and Selma townships earlier this week, Cherry Grove Township has agreed to change who can be on the Lake Mitchell Sewer Authority board.
Cherry Grove Township agreed Wednesday night to a resolution that allows elected or appointed officials to represent the township board on the sewer authority board, as well as an additional appointee (likely a sewer user).
Proponents of the changes see it as a compromise between property owners and the sewer authority; critics wanted the whole topic tabled.
David Kuyers, a board member of the year-old organization Lake Mitchell Property Owners, said he thought the amendment would limit the number of sewer system rate payers that could be on the LMSA board. The property owners association have been advocating for control of the board as the sewer authority is preparing to take out a $9.5 million loan from the USDA (the federal agency has not yet agreed to give the loan to the LMSA) to overhaul the sewage system, which has been known to leak. He urged the township board to table the topic.
But Kathy Adams, Cherry Grove Township supervisor, said the amendment to LMSA articles of incorporation was a compromise that allows greater flexibility in who may be on the board and increases the possibility that there may be more rate payers on the sewer authority.
Adams read from a legal opinion, paid for by LMSA, that stated sewer system users could face a conflict of interest between their own finances if they were on the sewer authority board and might vote to artificially suppress rates.
Clam Lake Township Supervisor Steve Kitler and Selma Township Supervisor Mike Boyd have both previously stated that the three townships, which have the power to appoint board members and had to approve changes to the bylaws for them to take effect, would likely be sued if the sewer authority were sued.
The townships and the sewer authority are forever linked, Adams agreed.
And the possibility of consequences for the aging sewer system was brought into focus again Wednesday night, as it had on Tuesday night in Selma Township.
Don Brady, a Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy environmental engineer, reiterated that EGLE considers the LMSA sewer system to be at the end of its usable life, that improvements are necessary and that, if overflows and leaks continue to happen, the LMSA could face enforcement action, including fines. Brady said EGLE was concerned about delays and changes to the board.
Adams also addressed the $700,000 question in the room on Wednesday.
Cherry Grove Township has about $700,000 leftover from when the Wexford County Department of Public Works handed over control of the Lake Mitchell sewer to the sewer authority. The funds represent user fees and interest from when the DPW managed the sewer. Selma and Clam Lake Township have significantly less in their funds. Why Cherry Grove has more wasn’t clear. Adams said it may have been that Cherry Grove had a different ratio than the other townships.
Adams said she would like the $700,000 to go toward sewer upgrades but the details had not been worked out. She said it was possible the funds could go toward purchasing lift stations for system users in Cherry Grove Township.
Brian Sousa, a project engineer for Wade Trim, which is overseeing the application process for a rural development loan from the USDA, also spoke to board members and the public.
Critics of the plan to ask for $9.5 million, to be funded by an approximately $35 rate increase, have questioned whether it is fair for Wade Trim to manage the LMSA system and to also be involved in the application for the multi-million dollar loan. Sousa said Wade Trim had divested in 2018 from Operation Services, which handles the day-to-day operations of the LMSA.
Sousa also stressed that the project may end up costing less than $9.5 million, and if it does not, users won’t be on the hook for the extra money because the USDA won’t disburse it. However, improvements won’t be designed and bid out until the USDA approves a loan and a loan amount, so the final number is not yet determined.
EDIT: this article has been updated to correct the kind of regulations the resolution changes and the equipment Cherry Grove might purchase.