THREE OAKS — The Three Oaks Village Council approved  a long-expected sewer increase, selecting the option that reduces the impact on smaller users during its \April 10 meeting.  At the same time, the council approved appointing a commission to look the village’s water quality.

The increase is effective May 1 and will be seen on customers’ June bills. Average residential customers will see an increase in the ready-to-serve (RTS) charge from $21 to $37 or higher, based on meter size. Usage is charged on a tiered basis, beginning with 1,000 gallons free and then from $6 per 1,000 gallons, to $7.50 per 1,000 gallons, and then $8.50 per 1,000 gallons.

A customer using 1,000 gallons per month should be expected to see their sewer bill increase from approximately $27 per month to $37 per month. A user on the higher end, 12,000 gallons per month, should be expected to see their sewer bill increase from approximately $91 per month to $117.

The increase comes with the village’s need to upgrade its sewer lagoon system in order to handle increased amounts of industrial waste generated by Journeyman Distillery and other customers, now and in the future, in order to comply with the terms of its Michigan Department of Environmental Quality permit.

“The DEQ is losing patience with us which will hurt us and our taxpayers,” Village President Dave Grosse said. alluding to potential fines from the DEQ. 

Part of the remedy is the dredging of the lagoons which has been delayed for several seasons due to unfavorable weather and ground conditions. During the meeting, Village Manager Mike Greene told the board that dredging equipment is being put in place at the lagoons in the hopes that the process will soon get underway.

The vote for the increase followed some discussion, with Trustee Colleen Newquist making the first motion to pass Option I, in which the usage fees were increased equally to all customers, regardless of size. She also asked that her motion include the appointment of a committee to investigate “why the water tastes so bad.”

Newquist said she realizes that drinking water is not related to the sewer system but included its as a courtesy in response to the many questions she has heard about the taste of the village’s drinking water.

Grosse opposed both Option I and combining it with the question of water quality. He favored the second option which he said placed less of a burden on the smaller user, which he defined as 4,000 gallons and under, who he said constitute the bulk of customers.

“Why should someone with only a toilet and washing machine pay so much more when they had nothing to do the needed upgrades,” Grosse asked. 

He also said there is no need to combine it with a study on water quality.

“We know why it tastes that way. If you don’t have a water softener, it’s the iron in the hard water that comes out of the wells,” Grosse said. 

Following the meeting, Greene said the village passes all water quality tests but said Grosse will appoint the committee at the next meeting

The vote on Newquist’s motion for Option I failed, with Grosse and Trustees Steve Graziano, John Pappa and Troy Zebell voting “no” and Trustees Newquist, John Kramer and Becky Thomas voting “yes.” The following vote for the tiered option passed with Pappa and Thomas casting “no” votes.

With the increase approved, the council moved to the business of spending, approving the estimated $202,800 option for sewer system upgrades and payment of $90,000 to Moore & Bruggink Inc. Consulting Engineers for the design and engineering plans.  Grosse noted that the cost of this project will be funded through a United States Department of Agriculture grant/loan if the village qualifies for the program.

Greene reported that Journeyman had told him that they will continue paying to have their distillery waste hauled to a remote treatment center for at least one year but may chose to return to the village system in the future.  He also reported that talks were continuing with Journeyman concerning the village’s access to its public utility easement on the distillery’s property.

The village approved paying the disputed $2,000 invoice from Smith & Sons Excavating to cover the cost of the August water main brake on Tulip Street. Pappa cast the only “no” vote.

After hearing an explanation of the proposal from Tactical Energy Group, the board approved the firm’s proposal from Jonathan Burke in which the village will pay 50 percent of the first year’s verified utility bill savings as identified by the firm’s review of the village’s utility tariff rate structure, with no capital expenditures involved.

Gail Freehling receive quick approvals for the routine closure and noise ordinance extension connected with Flag Day on June 8-9. On behalf of the Three Oaks Baseball Association, she also received the council’s appreciation for the group’s care of the ball fields at Watkins Park and agreement by the village to resume paying the electric bill, retroactive to 2018.  Payment of the yearly bill of about $8,000 was assumed by the Association in 2008 when the village was having serious financial troubles.

The board agreed to pay for village wide recycling service at an annual cost of about $25,000 per year, or $2.75 per unit, without any additional cost to residents. 

Greene reported that about 80 percent of those responding the village’s survey were in favor of continuing the service which had previously been paid by The Pokagon Fund.

From the audience, Tom Flint said he opposes the zoning request to Multiple Use by Shoreline Developers, which includes commercial use. Flint said he had witnessed the harm such zoning in a remote area can cause to downtown businesses. 

A representative of the developers said they were prepared to remove the commercial portion of their request, which also includes requests for multiple units and apartments for senior living.  He said no nursing or medical facilities are planned, stressing that the project is in the very preliminary stages of exploring zoning possibilities. The matter was referred back to the Planning Commission, which had recommended against the initial rezoning request.

The board approved the following appointments to the Downtown Development Authority: the reappointment of Garth Taylor and Carolyn Drier for terms ending in 2023; the appointment of Suzanne Bierwirth through 2023 to fill the remainder of the term of Don Jackson, who resigned; and J. D. Haughey and Brian Cardwell for terms ending in April 2020.

Angela Reichert reported that the DDA was thrilled with the support it had received through more than 20 letters supporting its grant request for improvements at Chamberlain Pathway.  She also requested that the path’s sign, which had recently been removed, be restored.

In other business, the board:

• Approved paying Police Officer Bruce McKamey at a $45,000 salary level, versus his $18 per hour rate, for the next six to eight weeks while he fills in for Police Chief Dennis Buller who is recovering from an off-duty accident;

• Approved the Arbor Day Proclamation to retain the village’s designation at a Tree City;

• Learned that smoke testing of the village’s sewers will begin in May and affected residents will be notified in advance;

• Heard Newquist’s report that the Planning Commission may reconsider its rules regarding temporary retail structures in light of a request for a temporary tent to sell fireworks;

• Learned that the Friends of the Library will be erecting “free little libraries” in village parks, and

• Heard the Community Garden is again flourishing with all but three plots taken.

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