What's next for CLRSD?The Brandon Township Board of Supervisors has voted to withdraw from the Central Lakes Region Sanitary District.
By: Mike Enright, Alexandria Echo Press
The Brandon Township Board of Supervisors has voted to withdraw from the Central Lakes Region Sanitary District.
The 2-1 decision – made at the board’s regular monthly meeting Monday night – sets in motion what could be a two-year process in removing the township from CLRSD.
One of six townships to be included in the district when it initially formed, Brandon resided in the second phase of the district’s proposed three-phase wastewater treatment facility, previously estimated to cost $53 million.
Increasing controversy has surrounded the project in recent months, however, with the formation of two grassroots opposition organizations: the Citizens League for Environmental and Economic Responsibility (CLEER) and the Big Chippewa, Whiskey and Devils lakes (BCWD) sewer stoppers.
Last August, phase two of the project was placed on hold as the district continued “exploring engineering and financing options,” and in October a metro area engineering consulting firm was hired by CLRSD to assess the wastewater treatment needs of the Brandon lakes area while looking at possible alternative systems to centralized sewer.
Brandon supervisors Mike Cleary and Paul Lauthen voted on Monday to leave the district.
Supervisor Don Buse, who is also a CLRSD board member, opposed the measure.
Lauthen said he has been leaning toward opting out of CLRSD for a while because for most of the township, hooking up to central sewer isn’t necessary right now.
“There are certain areas in our district that need some assistance,” he said, “but you can’t penalize the whole district for the benefit of a few.”
But until Monday, Lauthen said neither of the other supervisors had voiced support for leaving the district.
“It didn’t matter how I voted prior to this,” he said, “because it just wasn’t going to happen.”
Cleary said he ultimately voted to withdraw after hearing more and more township residents voice concerns over projected costs and whether the area really needs centralized sewer.
“The big pipe solution was too expensive for the area that it was looking at serving,” he said. “There just wasn’t enough density of population.”
Still, it wasn’t an easy decision, Cleary said.
“The township board did this reluctantly,” he said. “We basically bowed to public pressure.
“But in bowing to public pressure we got a very strong commitment from the opposition, the BCWD, to work with us.”
One of the conditions for the board approving the withdrawal motion was a pledge by the anti-sewer group to help develop a county-managed inspection and enforcement program of existing and future septic systems.
Paula Shelander, BCWD representative, said her group’s members are very pleased to see Brandon Township pull out of CLRSD.
“We think it’s huge,” she said of the decision. “I know a lot of senior citizens in our part of the project area that will have a much happier Christmas because they no longer have the burden of a sewer system on their shoulders.”
Shelander also praised township supervisors for listening to their constituents – eventually.
“It took an awful lot of coaxing and intense discussion,” she said, “but they finally came around to it.”
Cleary said he would have preferred to wait until after getting the results of the needs assessment before deciding on whether to exit the district, but with such strong public resentment of CLRSD, there seemed little point in delaying the inevitable.
“Once people lose faith in an organization they’ve been a part of, you really have no choice but to leave the organization and do something different,” Cleary said.
“I did make the vote somewhat to salvage the relationship with the people in BCWD,” he said, “and help turn all that negative energy focused against CLRSD into something positive – working toward a solution.”
Currently, the plan is to cooperate with the county on the design of a monitoring system, Cleary said, but everything is still very preliminary.
Dave Rush, Douglas County land and resource management director, whose office handles septic inspections for the county, said neither the township or BCWD has yet contacted his office with any kind of proposal on how to address Brandon’s future wastewater treatment needs.
“If somebody wanted to talk to me about any plans,” he said, “I would be very interested, and would like to hear about it.”
Cleary readily admits that when properly installed and maintained, septics are a perfectly acceptable wastewater treatment method – he owns one – but he said he’s not completely sold yet on the proposed monitoring program.
“We are putting a lot of trust in the county that they will step up and take responsibility for treating wastewater in the county,” he said, “which, to date, they have not shown an inclination to do.”
Cleary said he’s also worried about long-term viability.
“That’s my fear, that a lot of people out there think they can replace their onsite systems forever,” he said, “and that’s not the way it works.
“Eventually you run out of land.”