If not 'big pipe,' what else? Townships study other options for sewerIt began last December. That was when, following months of conflict over a proposed multimillion dollar sewage treatment plant, Brandon Township opted out of the Central Lakes Sanitary District.
By: Mike Enright, Alexandria Echo Press
It began last December.
That was when, following months of conflict over a proposed multimillion dollar sewage treatment plant, Brandon Township opted out of the Central Lakes Sanitary District.
Two more townships– Miltona and Leaf Valley – followed suit in January, leaving three townships – Moe, LaGrand and Carlos – within CLRSD.
In each of the departures, township supervisors have said the growing opposition of local constituents to the proposed CLRSD project influenced them in their decisions.
Since last spring, much of the resistance has come from two grassroots, anti-sewer organizations: Miltona-based Citizens Leagure for Environmental and Economic Responsibility (CLEER) and Big Chippewa, Whiskey and Devil’s lakes (BCWD) sewer stoppers.
Members from both groups say they want the CLRSD’s plans for a new wastewater treatment facility, which are currently on hold, stopped permanently, and the sanitary district shut down.
They have openly criticized district officials, filed a lawsuit, appealed to state regulators and lobbied local townships to leave CLRSD, thus hoping to dissolve the district.
And because, according to CLEER and BCWD, the district has not considered alternative water treatment options – a claim CLRSD officials dispute – the anti-sewer groups have come up with their own plans.
Representatives from each organization have said they would work with their respective townships and Douglas County’s Land and Resource Management office to create an active inspection and monitoring program that would require local property owners to maintain and, if needed, replace their onsite wastewater treatment systems, made up of individual septic tanks and cluster systems, which serve multiple households.
The idea is based on a similar program developed nearly 30 years ago under the Otter Tail Water Management District. Today, the Otter Tail district looks after 1,700 onsite systems, said Rollie Mann, program administrator.
With an annual operating budget of roughly $200,000, Mann, Otter Tail’s sole full-time employee, said he and two part-time assistants regularly check each of the septic and cluster systems on a schedule set by each system’s use.
Seasonal residents’ systems are checked once every three years, Mann said, while permanent homeowners have their systems inspected every two years.
Douglas County’s monitoring program is currently “a step away” from Otter Tail’s, in terms of frequency, said Dave Rush, director of the county’s land and resource management office.
Rush said his office performs “triggered inspections,” which means the county will check the compliance of a property owner’s septic tank any time he or she applies for a building or land-use permit, if a property is sold or if the county receives a complaint about an individual system.
“So, if you’re going to do anything to modify your property,” Rush said, “we say you need to start with your septic system.”
Rush said the county currently monitors 3,256 septic tanks on permanent residences, 1,692 on seasonal residences and 23 cluster systems.
There are also a number of dwellings, he said, where it is unknown what kind of wastewater system is used, if any.
There are 2,175 parcels located within the CLRSD’s boundaries, according to the most recent data available from the county’s auditor/treasurer office.
Rush said he didn’t know how many of those properties have onsite systems, and of the ones that do, what their compliance status might be.
“The vast majority are still unknown,” he said.
Peter Miller, of Wenck Associates, an engineering firm hired by CLRSD to study two of the district’s three phases, said via e-mail that there are 750 properties in the district’s third phase that have onsite systems, and 275 Phase II parcels with onsite systems.
In a study of Phase III, Wenck estimated that between 52 percent and 66 percent of the area’s septic systems were compliant.
Rush said he thought an Otter Tail-style monitoring program could work in Douglas County, but not without some work first.
“It’s a good idea,” he said, “but it is an idea that would have to be thought-out and well-planned.”
The program would certainly cost more than the current one, Rush said, if it was coordinated through his office, though he didn’t know how much.
It would also likely take more than a year to implement, he added.
When the Otter Tail program was originally constructed in 1984 it cost about $5.62 million, according to a 2004 report by the University of Minnesota Extension Service.
“The cost figures for the initial project installation are significantly lower than they would be today,” the report stated.
Mann, Otter Tail’s administrator, also said he didn’t know how much creating a similar project would cost in today’s dollars.
“It [would be] expensive,” Mann said. “But I can’t believe it wouldn’t be less than building a central [sewer] plant.
“I’d be very surprised.”
To learn more about the Otter Tail Water Management District, see the attached PDF of a 2004 report by the University of Minnesota Water Resource Center.