WHAT'S GOING ON WITH THE LAKE MITCHELL SEWER AUTHORITY?
By Dave Foley
Alarmed about the recent spike in sewer rate charges? There's an explanation. But first some background should be noted.
Prior to 1977, the Lake Mitchell property owners had no sewer system, and relied on septic tanks. The result was seepage into the lake from the drain fields, which increased the nitrogen and phosphorus levels.
By 1978 the new system was in place and the quarterly rate was $48.00 dollars. The first rate increase of $6.00 took place in April 1, 2008, which made the new quarterly rate $54.00. Fast forward to April 1, 2018, 41 years later the quarterly sewer bill is $211.56 per quarter. The agreement the Authority had with the City of Cadillac to treat its wastewater has more than tripled since the expiration of the 40-year old treatment contract. Since 1978, the City of Cadillac has provided sewer treatment services to these townships at a cost that had not been raised for several decades due to disagreements in how to calculate the increase. There is currently a lawsuit between the two parties.
In June Lake Mitchell Sewer Authority Chairman Bob Hilty in a letter to customers made the following observations:
"Historically, the sewer rates were not incrementally increased over the years to support and sustain the aging sewer system," Hilty wrote. "Almost all this equipment is 41 years old and either requires major repair work or replacement which is very costly.” In the letter, Hilty outlines the various system upgrades that need to be made, including hundreds of grinder pumps, seven lift stations and three wastewater metering points, among other things. These projects are ongoing. Due to increased operation, maintenance, repair, and capital projects costs to the wastewater collection system, it is necessary for LMSA to budget additional funds in the 2018/2019 sewer operating budget. Several factors contributed to the increasing costs, including rehabilitation, operational expenditures, including the rising cost of electricity, wastewater treatment, and replacement/repair of pumps, generators, motors, and ongoing maintenance of infrastructure. Another key factor to increased costs is directly related to groundwater infiltration issues created from broken cleanouts, illegal sump pump connections, and roof/foundation drain connections. LMSA will be conducting home inspections throughout the spring and summer months looking for illegal connections to the sewer system. Homeowners will be given an opportunity to disconnect any illegal connections found, prior to LMSA imposing a mandatory fine.
The Lake Mitchell Sewer Authority took ownership in 2015 and faced escalating costs resulting from infrastructure needs. According to Project Manager Sheila Hill, “In the fall of 2018, LMSA took a positive step forward by hiring an engineering firm to assist them with the USDA loan/grant application process. The required improvements to the system cannot be supported on rates alone. LMSA has taken on the issue of a debilitated system, equipment, rates that did not support it, as well as planning for future needs. They are heading in the right direction and taking the necessary actions to solve the issue and be fiscally responsible for current and future generations.”
When I asked if the bills were likely to show more dramatic increases, Sheila said, “It is difficult for LMSA to predict increases at this point. As LMSA moves forward with the USDA loan/grant process, they will provide more insight as it relates to future rates. Some of the key factors will be the loan amount, asset management, and a rate study.”
How you can help reduce costs.
1. Please do not flush disposable wipes into the system. Wipes do not deteriorate and cause the grinder pumps to bind up which could lead to possible sewer backups. This increases maintenance activities, costly repairs, electricity usage, and after hour alarms, that increase the cost to LMSA and the users.
2. Connecting sump pumps and/or roof or foundation drains into the sewer system is illegal. The system was not designed to handle all of the infiltration from these connections. During heavy rain events, staff have documented increased flows at the metering points. This type of infiltration can cause sewer overflows and backups into the resident’s homes and in the system. These types of connections increase costs and contribute to higher sewer rates. Users are paying for the treatment of clean water, increased electrical costs, and additional wear on the equipment.
3. Please do not obstruct the right of way/easement to and around the Grinder Pump & Lift Stations with snow banks, shrubs, trees, flower beds, fences, parked vehicles or trailers. It is extremely important these areas are accessible at all times for LMSA staff, vehicles, large portable generators, and other equipment/tools to make necessary repairs and perform preventative maintenance activities. If LMSA cannot access the station, this could cause sewer backups, not just in your residence, but anyone else connected to that station. You may also be liable for expenses associated with sewer cleanup efforts, costs to remove the obstruction, any other costs incurred by LMSA, and possible penalties.