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New survey weighs support of CLRSD plan

A new survey is stirring up controversy around an already contested sewage treatment plant.

Officials with the Central Lakes Region Sanitary District are protesting a recently released questionnaire meant to measure public opinion over the proposed project, calling the survey inaccurate and misleading.

"The survey provides the distinct impression it is from CLRSD," said Pat Conroy, district general manager, in an e-mail statement. "It is not a survey initiated or sanctioned by CLRSD."

The survey was paid for by two anti-sewer groups: the Citizens League for Environmental and Economic Responsibility (CLEER) and the Big Chippewa, Whiskey and Devils (BCWD) lakes sewer stoppers.

It is the first survey to ask residents across the district if they support a centralized sewer system, and whether the township they live in should stay in the sanitary district.

Conroy said with the title "Important CLRSD Survey" and the line "Attn: CLRSD Survey" in the return address, CLEER and BCWD are trying to mask the survey's source.

"This is misleading, deceitful, and was done without CLRSD knowledge," he said.

CLEER representative Troy Dittberner disputed the charge.

"It says right on there that this was put together by CLEER and BWCD," Dittberner said. "It's right on the survey, on the bottom of the facts page."

The survey has two pages. At the bottom of the second one, titled "FACTS," reads the line: "This survey was paid for by BWCD and CLEER, 10/2008."

Jerry Haggenmiller, CLRSD board chairman, said the disclaimer on who sent the survey should have been placed higher up and spelled out in larger print.

He also said the opposition groups don't have all their facts straight.

The survey's estimated cost of $52.5 million isn't accurate, Haggenmiller said, because on October 16 CLRSD hired a consulting firm to take another look at the project's $12.5 million second phase, covering Brandon, already on hold.

Now, the proposed system is estimated at $41 million, he said.

Haggenmiller said the survey also falsely claims that residents will have to pay a $10,000 assessment if the sewer system runs through or along their property, even if they don't connect to it.

"That's not true," he said. "If you can't hook up to it, then you won't pay the $10,000 assessment."

Dittberner said CLEER and BCWD put the survey together before CLRSD's October 16 decision, using the most current cost information available.

"We've tried to make it fair and honest," he said. "There is nothing in there that's misleading or not factual."

Dittberner said the groups hired Alexandria Tax and Business Services, Inc. as a non-biased third party to perform the survey.

He said CLEER and BWCD gave the company a list of residents in the sanitary district, obtained from Douglas County's auditor/treasurer's office.

Dan Loken, owner of Alexandria Tax and Business Services, said his firm has sent out surveys to everyone on that list, which will be mailed back to his office.

Loken said his staff will count up the totals and report the results to CLEER and BWCD.

Dittberner said if CLRSD officials have problems with how the CLEER/BWCD survey was conducted, then they are more than welcome to do their own.

"[CLRSD] should have done this a long time ago," Dittberner said. "Then they wouldn't be in this mess."

Haggenmiller said the district has considered sending out a survey in the past, but has no plans for one at this time.

Right now, he said, the board is focused on securing construction bids for the project's first and third phases in order to get a better sense of the actual costs.

"Everything so far has just been estimates," Haggenmiller said.