July 30, 2014 - Ortonville- For years, village officials have waffled over what to do regarding sewers as the lack of them impedes business growth and septic systems increasingly fail, but the decision may soon be out of their hands.
On July 24, Village Manager John Lyons and Council President Wayne Wills met with representatives from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the Oakland County Health Division and the Brandon School District.
"The DEQ wants us to join forces (with the school district) to get a wastewater treatment system in place," explained Lyons to the village council at their July 28 meeting. "This year, our water quality samples have all been unsatisfactory. They (the DEQ) are going to accumulate all past history of water quality samples and septic systems in the village and compare with school samples. They are researching what action they may take against the village and the school district. It ups the ante."
The school district is currently in the process of renewing their discharge permit for a 5-year period. Paralleling the village, the district has also had septic issues for years and in 2012, officials spent $74,000 for updates to the district's wastewater treatment plant in order to keep the district in compliance with state regulations and prevent thousands of dollars in fines on a daily basis. The updates were a temporary fix only and the district does not have enough room to build a new wastewater treatment plant, nor for a new engineered septic field. Recently retired Superintendent Lorrie McMahon previously said the district was hoping the repairs would be enough until the village put in sewers and the district hooked up to the system.
Phil Argiroff, permit section chief for the MDEQ, said it was the MDEQ's re-quest to meet jointly with both the village and school district.
"Nothing is mandated at this time, but we are looking for a regional solution where infrastructure wise, there is one wastewater treatment plant that takes care of school issues and provides sewers to ortonville and helps with problems with septic tanks," he said. "We're working with them as a community and to see if we can move forward on a regional solution."
Argiroff said the MDEQ hopes this is the last 5-year permit issued for the school district's current system.
"We are summarizing existing water quality data on the (Kearsley) Creek and replacements of septic systems and groundwater data as well," he continued. "We are just trying to get the full picture of different issues involved to address cost effectively all of the concerns. Our plan is to meet again in the future and compile information."
Tony Drautz, administrator for the Oakland County Health Division, said the OCHD has not received the MDEQ request for water sample data, or a timeframe.
"I anticipate that we are all at the table on this thing to move forward, get complicance and do what we can to help the village, but I have not heard anything else," Drautz said. "We potentially have some role in the sewage treatment plant. If there is an impact to water quality in the area, that is something we would be involved in, especially with wells, but this is a preliminary meeting to identify problems and determine a course of action."
The OCHD issues well and septic permits. Drautz said while the village has had unsatisfactory water quality samples, including ones submitted from the Kearsley Creek prior to Creekfest in June, he is unaware of any samples that came back with particularly high e.coli levels. The OCHD has differing standards regarding full and partial body contact. Drautz said the day before the Creekfest samples were taken, it rained, and there is no way to tell if elevated e.coli levels were from septic issues, or geese or dog feces.
"The sample results wouldn't indicate heavy sewage pollution, they need to do more extensive sampling," he said.
Information requested for sample results from wells will be limited, since the OCHD has only been permitting wells since 1998. However, Drautz said if the OCHD can isolate a problem and identify a source of contamination, it will strengthen the village's application for sewage treatment funding.
Village officials learned in March that they were not selected for a $2 million grant from the MDEQ's Stormwater, Asset Management and Wastewater Program. Still, Lyons said the village is the closest they have ever been to getting sewers. Within the last two-and-a-half years, the council has secured property on Narrin Street that can be used for a wastewater treatment plant, completed a required environmental study, and obtained the required DEQ permit.
If the village had received the grant, they would have been obligated to start construction within three years. Now, the council must decide whether to move forward, possibly including design cost in a Rural Development loan application. Lyons estimates it would cost somewhere between $15-$18 million to bring sewers to the village, funded through the federal loan, which could be paid back over the course of 40 years.
Lyons said the village will apply for the Rural Development loan if the MDEQ returns a report that said the village must take steps.
"They may mandate the plant," he said. "If the report comes back and it's not as bad as everyone thinks, we can still do it so the village can live. They are very close to mandating engineered fields for everyone. (A wastewater treatment system) will help the village and businesses and be better for everybody."
Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville