FAQs

Below is a list of Frequently Asked Questions for this project. 

Barton Lake Association-General FAQs

What is the proposed Barton Lake Sanitary Wastewater System?

The proposed Barton Lake Sanitary Wastewater System would be a collection system, with debt secured and assets owned by South County Sewer and Water Authority.  Due to proximity, the Barton Lake collection system would connect with and transport their sanitary waste through the Village of Vicksburg sanitary collection system.  

Would Barton Lake pay an additional fee to The Village of Vicksburg to connect to their system?

Yes, and the connection fee proposed by Vicksburg is included in the cost estimates provided on this website – see below.  

What are the approximate costs for residents to shut down septic systems and re-direct/connect at curbside?

To be conservative, we used $2,000 per connection in our estimates for the SCSWA WWTP analysis. 

What are the assessment costs for double, adjacent, vacant lots, etc.?

Assessment Structure: Assessment structure is determined by the Township

Currently proposed structure:

Benefit Assessment: Majority share of total assessment, includes capital costs to implement project – Same assessment for every Residential Equivalent Unit.

 

Front Foot Assessment: Minor share of total assessment, based on lot frontage size – Varies based on size of parcel/lot.

Vacant Lot: This is the Front Foot Assessment – See Above.   

For SCSWA WWTP example, we established to be executed at $10/ft, per front lot footage.  For a 100 ft. lot this would equate to approximately $1,000 front foot Assessment.     

How will roads be re-paved, included for the wastewater system installation for Association and Private owned lots?

There is some freedom and cover the roads that are affected by the installation of the collection system.  

What is the connection delay period/cost exposure for the proposed wastewater system?

This can vary but will affect the bond costs if extended. 

This period is generally between 0-3 years, and, rarely exceeds 5 years.  

What is the payment period for assessment payments?

This is a district policy decision and can be up to 40 years.  

Why does a municipal wastewater system matter to me?

Why should a municipal wastewater system matter to me?

A municipal wastewater system (WWS) will provide a safer, and more stable and sustainable sanitary sewage collection and treatment network vs the current high-density installations of onsite septic systems.  Also, communities with municipal wastewater systems tend to attract long term, stable, economic growth opportunities and provide lower life cycle costs for wastewater service at a higher level of treatment. Section 12752 of Michigan's Public Health Code encourages connection to and use of public sanitary sewer collection and treatment systems instead of private on-site septic systems as a means to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the people of the state of Michigan. (MCL 333.12752)

South County Sewer and Water Authority - General FAQs

If a Drain Board is formed, what level of control will the customers or residents have with their decision process?

The main control and management of the WWS system, will be governed by SCSWA, of which, each participating member will have proportionate voting rights.

Do the elected officials retain control of the Sanitary Sewer System?

Yes, SCSWA will maintain control of the operation, maintenance and governance of the WWS. The Drain Board is primarily formed to provide the sponsorship of the USDA-RD funding  and most practical implementation conduit the project.  

From what districts will the elected officials provide representation? Brady, Pavilion, or Other?

Each public wastewater service area/district (lake area, Village, etc.) is represented by an elected official from the local unit of government within which the service area/district lies.  This representation is through voting rights on the SCSWA Board, of which Brady Township, Pavilion Township, Schoolcraft Township, Village of Schoolcraft, and Village of Vicksburg each have one appointed Board member.  Each local unit that has assets owned and operated by the SCSWA has two votes while those without any assets (i.e., skin in the game) have one vote.  Currently, only Brady and Pavilion Township have two votes.  Should new service areas in other local units be owned and operation by the SCSWA as a results of a proposed project, those members would also have two votes under the current by-laws.   

Do the customers have a vote that approves or rejects the Drain Board recommendations or special assessments?

The SCSWA Board, through its voting members, will manage the operations, maintenance, rates, assessments and fees for the WWS system.  The Drain Board is primarily acting as an agent for the SCSWA to implement the project plan desired by the local units.

Have past studies led to this recommendation?

The State of Michigan previously approved a “Stormwater, Asset Management, and Wastewater” (“SAW”) Grant for the South County Sewer and Water Authority (SCSWA) to be used to study the condition of the existing SCSWA system, which comprises primarily of services areas along Indian Lake, Pickerel Lake and Sprinkle Road.    

South County Sewer and Water Authority - Information

What is the South County Sewer and Water Authority and What Do They Do?

The SCSWA is a separate legal entity established originally by Brady Township, Pavilion Township, and Schoolcraft Township (and then expanded to add the Village of Schoolcraft and the Village of Vicksburg).  These “constituent municipalities” formed SCSWA pursuant to Michigan Public Act 233 of 1955.  Per Act 233, municipalities may create an incorporated utility authority to acquire, own, extend, improve, and operate sewage disposal systems, water supply systems, and solid waste management systems; to prescribe the rights, powers, and duties thereof; to authorize contracts between such authorities and public corporations; to provide for the issuance of bonds to acquire, construct, extend, or improve the systems; and to prescribe penalties and provide remedies. Brady Township, Pavilion Township, Schoolcraft Township, Village of Schoolcraft, and Village of Vicksburg each have one appointed member on the SCSWA Board.  


Who is on the Board of Directors?

The Authority’s Board of Directors is comprised of five members, one each from the five  constituent municipalities that are part of the Authority (Brady Township, Pavilion Township, Schoolcraft Township, Village of Schoolcraft, and Village of Vicksburg).  Under the Authority’s Articles of Incorporation, each constituent municipality is required to appoint one member of its legislative body (such as the township board or village council) to serve on the Authority Board.  Often the appointee to the Authority’s Board is the township supervisor or village council president, however, each legislative body has the authority to select their own appointee to the Authority Board.  The appointee serves on the Authority Board at the pleasure of the appointing legislative body.    For information on the current Board of Directors, click here.


Is the SCSWA considered a “municipality” on its own?

The SCSWA is a public authority created under state law and, in many respects, functions much like a township or village, except that it has no taxing power.  

Does the SCSWA provide both public wastewater and water?

At this time, the SCSWA provides only public wastewater service to customers along Indian Lake, Pickerel Lake and Sprinkle Road.   Under its Articles of Incorporation, it is able to provide water service if requested by the municipalities.  Most utility authorities similar to the SCSWA generally evolve and expand over time based on the utility needs within the jurisdictions it represents.

How does the SCSWA finance its operations?

The SCSWA operates as an enterprise fund, with annual revenue and expense budgets with retained earnings. As a public sewer enterprise fund, we have two sources of revenue, monthly (quarterly) User Service Charges, and new construction Capital Charges levied on new homes, businesses, etc. who are charged either a Connection Fee or a Special Assessment.    Special assessment are levied by a municipality for a specific public improvement are restricted to pay the costs incurred for new sewer construction projects.   Connection Fees, charged in lieu of (or on top of) Special Assessments, may be restricted for debt payments or may also (sometimes) be used as a reserve fund for other sewer related construction and repair necessitated by growth of the system (to maintain the ability to provide service to new areas). 

Is the SCSWA audited?

The Authority is audited annually by independent auditors and the audit is submitted to the State as required of all municipal entities.  Our budgets and annual audited financial statements are posted on our website.   

Will Vicksburg Participate in the Wastewater Treatment Plant?

Vicksburg has confirmed that they will not participate in the SCSWA wastewater treatment system but will be expanding their system to possibly include the connection and transport of the Barton Lake sanitary collection system.

Kalamazoo County Drain Board

What is the purpose of the Kalamazoo County Drain Board?

The Drain Board will be established under Public Act 489a of the Michigan Drain Code to act as the financing and implementation conduit of any debt financing if the SCSWA’s Wastewater System is expanded and/or a wastewater treatment plant constructed.  The Drain Board and SCSWA will enter into an agreement whereby the SCSWA will manage all aspects of the systems in a similar fashion as currently exists.  Once the debt/bonds for the expansion project are paid off, asset ownership will revert to the SCSWA and the Drain Board will no longer be associated with the project.  


Will the Drain Board have governing and operational authority in areas such as establishing rates, setting assessments, managing the sanitary assets, etc.

While any bonds issued by the Drain Board are outstanding, the Drain Board will own the system.  The Drain Board will lease the system to the SCSWA, on behalf of the constituent municipalities, to provide for the operation and maintenance of the system, which will include the ability to set rates, charges and fees necessary for the connection to and use and operation of the system.  

Who are the members of the Kalamazoo County Drain Board?

Per Chapter 20 of the Drain Code, the three members of the Drain Board will be the County Drain Commissioner, County Board of Commissioners Chairperson, and the County Board of Commissioners Finance Committee Chairperson.  If the Finance Committee Chairperson is not a designated official, the Drain Commission can appoint the final member from the County Board of Commissioners who represents the service area in question.

Who provides the maintenance of the existing system?

Infrastructure Alternatives.  

What will the expanded WWS and wastewater treatment plant cost to me?

What If I Cannot Afford to Connect to the Wastewater System?

Various favorable loans and grants are available to property owners.

When Are We Committed to Accepting the USDA-RD Loan/Grant offer and Paying Consultant Fees?

Current forecast is around June 2020, when the USDA-RD Loan/Grant offer is obtained and significant design, permitting, easement acqusitions, and legal efforts would begin and professional service contracts executed.

When will I be required to hook up to the municipal WWS?

The proposal is to permit property owners within the new service areas up to three years BEFORE connection to the system is mandatory.  

Wastewater treatment system and data

What size of tank is required for residential dwellings (table in sanitary code)? How is this determined (number of bedrooms or other parameters)|?

Per section 7.02.e of the Kalamazoo County Septic Code, septic tanks must have a capacity equal to or greater than the average volume of sewage flowing into it during any 24 hour period; or 1000 gallons; whichever is larger.  A table is provided in the code showing tank size for number of bedrooms. 

What size of drain field is required for residential properties (is there a table or calculation in sanitary code?)? What is minimum size?

Absorption fields are sized based on the total number of bedrooms, soil type, and the type of system selected.  For a trench system the minimum required size is 600 SFT.  For a drainbed system the minimum required size it 800 SFT.  Sizing criteria can be found in sections 7.10 and 7.11 of the Kalamazoo County Septic Code.

Are rental units considered residential or commercial? How are the tank and drain field sizes determined for these?

Multi-unit rentals such as apartments or condos are typically considered commercial from a rate making standpoint.  Single unit rentals would be classified as residential and would likely follow the residential sizing requirements.  All other systems would require a site-specific septic design.

How are schools, churches, libraries covered in sanitary code (commercial or residential or other)?

These types of facilities have their own classifications and would require site specific septic designs.

What size tank and drain fields are required for commercial users and what is this based on (water consumption? Volume from process at business? Type of waste stream? )

Commercial septic systems are site specific and would be based on soil type, topography, type of waste being generated and volume of discharge.  At a minimum, they would be sized to meet the 24 hour discharge volume.

What are the options for residences with small lot size? Tank and/or drain field limits? Placement and lot line considerations? What limits on septic use would apply to small lots?

Small lots would find it difficult to meet the minimum isolation distances (50’ from wells, 10’ from water lines, 15’ from basements, 5’ from property lines…) while also reserving an equal sized area for future system replacement (Section 6.09.f).  Existing drywells can be replaced if a deviation permit is issued by the Kalamazoo County Health Department.  In section 7.15.c, several considerations are listed which may prevent such a deviation from being permitted. 

What conditions require a “mound” type septic system?

Per section 7.09 of the Kalamazoo County Sanitation Code: A mound system may be required due to poor soil types, high ground water or mottling or “as deemed necessary” by the County Health Department.  

Where does soil from septic replacement go for disposal?

Contaminated soil must be landfilled. 

Where are grey-water disposal systems allowed and what are specifications and requirements?

Gray-water is considered the same as any other type of sewage, therefore a complete septic system would be required following the same standards as “blackwater”.  See Section 3.70 for the definition of sewage.  

What is a Conventional Gravity Sewer? What are pump stations?

A Conventional Gravity Sewer system is a system of pipes and main-line pump stations that are installed at-grade, allowing most homes to connect their existing plumbing by gravity out to the street.    Main-line pump stations are constructed where depth of sewer or terrain challenges prevent gravity from being installed and then, force mains or pressure mains carry pumped wastewater up and over the obstacles and terrain to a point where the wastewater is again discharged into a gravity collector sewer

How often do sewer systems need repairs for leaks?

Modern sewer systems are typically constructed of PVC or other similar forms of plastic piping and precast concrete manholes. These assets have an expected life of 75-100 years.  If properly maintained, they would only require spot repairs on an as needed basis.  Pump stations are mechanical in nature and therefore require rehabilitation every 20-30 years of the mechanical components thereof. 

Who is responsible for leaks on owner property? In system pipes and plant?

The public system is responsible for maintaining and repairing pipes, manholes and other system components within the road ROW or established easement.  All lines beyond road ROW and within private property are the property owner’s responsibility.  Therefore, after the initial assessments or connection fees for any new service areas or new customers, the only costs moving forward for a property owner will be the monthly rate.

What kind of conditions might lead to a system shutdown or prevent use? (broken mains, failed pumps, flood?)?

Circumstances where the system fails are rare but could be caused by third party construction damaging pipes, clogging (if maintenance is neglected for an extended period of time), lightning strikes on pumping stations or other similar issues beyond control.  Damaged pipe is rare and usually located easily due to regularly spaced manholes.   At pump stations, power outages and lightning strikes are mitigated by automatic backup generators and portable pumping equipment. 

During the design of the system, flooding is considered and accounted for. However, if flooding overwhelms the system, portable pumping equipment can be used to boost the capacity of pump stations and avoid overflows.  Alarm systems and continuous remote system monitoring by the operators provide early notice of impending issues. 

How does the geography of the region affect design and operation? (gravity vs pumping, natural flow to watershed, water table, below frost line)

Soil conditions dictate construction methods and some design parameters while topography dictates how often a pump stations is required.  To every extent possible the existing topography is followed to minimize the number of pump stations required.  The water table is avoided when possible due to the cost of dewatering during construction; however, the water table does not prevent the successful installation and use or sewers. 

What tests are done to monitor the Village water supplies?

The Department of Energy, Great Lakes, and the Environment (EGLE formerly MDEQ) requires water testing and the publishing of a “Consumer Confidence Report” annually.  This report outlines water test results as well as required limits.

How much water is pumped by Village systems per year? How does that compare to annual precipitation?

We would need to look into the Village monthly operator reports to understand total water pumped. 

How long does it take for water to get from the surface to the depth of the Village water well?

This is a difficult question to answer because it varies based on soil condition and location.  Wells are connected to aquifers which are much larger than the Village limits and are often “confined”. 

How are private wells addressed in code? What permits are required if any?

Yes, private wells are regulated by the County and a permit is required.

Lots and duplex information

How much will people on corner lots be paying?

Typically corner lots follow a set of rules which prevents them from either paying too much or too little. The City of Kalamazoo uses this set of rules:

  • If the sum of both sides is 198’ or less, then they are assessed ½ of the sum.
  • If the sum of both sides is greater than 198’, then they are assessed ½ of the sum less 99’.

Another option would be to use the large and/or smaller side for the assessment.  Local assesors will determine the method to be used.

Will duplexes by charged twice for sewer line?

A duplex will typically be assessed as two residential units. Assessments are spread based on benefit reaped.  

Will duplexes have separate meters?

Sewer service lines do not have meters.  Where water meters are available, local units would be able to distribute their cost of the SCSWA budget, allocated on an REU basis, through localized rate structures utilizing water metered flows.

FAQs about sanitary systems for townships, villages and lakes

Why should our community consider a sanitary sewer project?

Concern for taking a proactive approach toward protecting surface water and drinking water resources basically drives the need for all communities to, at the very least, consider some kind of common collection and treatment system for the wastewater we generate daily.

How would this project affect me?

If the Lake Association decides to move forward with the project, homeowners and businesses within the service area will be required to connect to the new sewer within 3 years.

How is the service area determined for the study?

Generally, density of development and need for service is the primary determining factor.

Who determines if the project should proceed?

Townships, Associations, and the Villages must decide the level of overall public approval they will feel most comfortable with.  In general, when the Township, Associations, and Village officials are satisfied that there is enough support within the community to move forward, they will proceed.

If approved, when can we expect construction to begin?

If everything goes well, possibly within 18-24 months of approval.

How is the total project cost determined?

Through a detailed study and preliminary sewer layout.  Estimates are preliminary and based on the information generated for the study.  Past experiences on these types of projects allow the engineer to prepare reliable estimates from the preliminary sewer layout.  Many factors can affect final costs including final design, routing, restoration of roads, construction conditions, funding rates and terms, and changing material costs. 

 

How can a project be funded?

It is likely that the project funding will be from a combination revenue and general obligation bond issued through the Michigan Drain Code.  Low interest financing and grant funding can be applied for through the United States Department of Agriculture, Rural Development Program and low interest financing can be applied for through the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality State Revolving Fund (SRF) Program.

How will the bond be repaid?

Through rates and assessments paid by property owners within the sewer district.

What will this mean to my household?

In general, a rate structure must be developed that will repay the capital costs of the project as well as annual operation, maintenance and replacement (O, M &R) costs.  The rate structure would typically include a monthly charge to cover O, M & R costs, plus a portion of the capital costs; a benefit fee assessment for each connection; and a front footage fee assessment; as described below:

Monthly Rate: This would be a flat monthly rate charge which each customer would pay each month based on the number of Residential Equivalency Units (REU’s) assigned to each customer.  A single-family residence (1 REU) would pay the base monthly rate.  Other users, such as an apartment building, mobile home park, or resort, would pay a monthly rate based on their respective total number of REUs times the monthly rate/REU.  These charges may go up or down as costs may dictate.

Benefit Fee Assessment: This would be a one-time flat fee assessed to each customer who connects to the system.  This would also be allocated based upon REU’s as described above.

Front Footage Fee Assessment: This would be a one-time  fee assessed to each property, served by or with access to the system, based upon the taxable and buildable parcel records of the local jurisdiction and length of frontage adjacent to the sewer main.

Other Costs: In addition to the monthly sewer rates and assessments, property owners can expect to incur the following additional expenses in connection with the project.

What would be my share of the project cost?

Final rates will be determined by the actual cost of the project.  Many factors will influence this cost, including labor and material costs at the time the project is undertaken, interest rates, and most importantly, the scope of the project, and the number of households available to share the costs.

Are mobile or modular homes treated the same as a site-built home?

Yes, unless they are within a manufactured home community.  In that case, the community is assessed the parcel fee and each unit is counted as a fraction of a residential equivalency unit (such as .75 REUs) for the benefit fee.

What if I am on both sides of the road, my house on one side and my garage on the other?

It depends on the community’s user rate ordinance.  Generally, you would be assessed a front footage fee assessment on both lots but you would only pay one benefit fee for the lot where your home is located.

 

Is it mandatory that I connect to the system?

Yes. If you are within the approved district boundary, you will be required to connect to the system including the abandonment of your new septic system within five years of the system be available.

How will the district boundary be determined? Who will decide what properties are in and what properties are out?

The district boundary will ultimately be determined by the Township and Village Officials and is based on perceived risk or need.  The boundary is written as a legal land description and normally includes whole tax parcels.  The Townships and Village endeavor to obtain feedback from the various stakeholders within their municipal boundaries.

Instead of an expensive community or public sewer system, can’t we just build our individual septic systems better?

Yes, you can do a better job of treating or disposing of your wastewater on your own land than you are right now.  But, you will likely find the cost to be greater than that of a public system and the on-site system will not protect the ground and surface waters.  In addition to that, you must always make room for the replacement system, then the replacement of the replacement system.

What about someone who connects to the system after it is complete - will there be an added charge?

Yes, most ordinances allow for a surcharge or added premium for later connections.

I have lived in my home for 20 years and have never had a problem with my septic system. Why do I need a sewer system?

The average life of a conventional septic system is 15 to 20 years with normal use and good maintenance.  Early failures are due to many factors, including water table, soil conditions, topography, and volume of use.  If your system is 10 to 15 years old, its days are numbered.  If your system is 15 to 20 years old, it was likely not built to the standards required for proper and modern operation.  In other words, it may be discharging to groundwater now without your knowledge.  Furthermore, with ever increasing statewide focus on protecting surface and ground waters, modern standards for construction are more stringent and costly than those of the past.

 The REMOVAL of the wastewater entirely from your property protects your water well, your neighbor’s well and the quality of the groundwater and nearby surface water resources.

We have been using septic systems for years, why all of a sudden is this no longer desirable?

The transition from septic systems to public/municipal collection and treatment has been going on for more than 30 years in the rural areas of this country and longer in villages, towns and cities.

 It is widely accepted and understood that the technology used in the municipal collection and treatment of wastewater thru public sewer systems far out-performs that of the simple septic system.

How will this affect my property values?

In most communities, the installation of public sewers has a very positive affect on property values, generally increasing values in excess of the sewer assessment.  Home buyers from areas where they are accustomed to having public sewers have a much higher level of comfort knowing their investment does not include the future risk of a failed septic system with few, if any, options for replacement.  Additionally, in accordance with the Headlee Amendment, property taxes cannot increase due to increased property values associated with sewer installation and will only increase once a property is sold and the taxable value uncapped.

How will the property owners pay for the assessment?

1.  The balance can be paid in full at any time during the assessment period.  For a loan financed through the USDA-RD, this assessment period would be 40 years.

2.  You may pay them on an annual basis as part of your property tax bill. 

Why is it my concern if I don’t even live on a lake?

All homes within a watershed area contribute to contamination of groundwater and drinking water.  Every septic field drains toward a lake, well, stream, or groundwater supply.  Large wastewater producers, such as a school or office complex, are a real and possible risk to your drinking water resources.

Are there any test results that actually prove sewers help the groundwater and surface water quality?

There are tests that show the increases and decreases in a variety of contaminants as well as tests that show levels of turbidity (water clarity) and so on.  In Michigan, many associations regularly test their water and send the results to the Department of Energy, Great Lakes, and the Environment (EGLE formerly MDEQ) .  The water quality on lakes that have installed sanitary sewers has improved.

How are the hundreds/thousands of acres of agricultural runoff being handled? Isn’t it true that the pollutants from the farmland are much greater than septic systems?

Agricultural runoff is a recognized contributor to water pollution.  For this reason, there are several state and federal programs in place to educate farmers about the hazards of their farming practices and what they must do to minimize these hazards.  On the other hand, there are few programs in place to educate home and business owners about their septic systems and historically, little if any enforcement has taken place.  For that reason it has become the responsibility of individual property owners to take steps to protect their own water resources to the best of their ability.

Who really stands to gain? Do developers, lawyers, and engineers stand to be the true beneficiaries?

The primary beneficiaries of a sewer project are the people served by the system. They can now wash their laundry at home, get a dishwasher, garbage disposal, take long showers, and do all the other things formerly prohibited by their septic system. And of course, drinking water wells are no longer in danger of being impacted by septic wastes. On lakes and streams, anyone who uses the lake and the lake itself benefit from cleaner water with fewer nutrients to increase plant growth. 

What will happen to a lake if we do nothing?

Under natural conditions, most lakes will ultimately evolve to a eutrophic state (meaning the increase in nutrient levels causes a decrease in oxygen levels) as they gradually fill in with sediment and organic matter transported to the lake from the surrounding watershed.  The natural lake aging process can be greatly accelerated if excess amounts of sediment and nutrients (which stimulate aquatic plant growth) enter the lake.  This is commonly associated with human activity and is often referred to as “Cultural Eutrophication”.  This problem can be managed by identifying the sources of sediment and nutrient loading to the lake and trying to halt or slow the inputs.

Why aren’t the assessments more proportional to property values?

All property has to be treated the same way. The assessment cannot be determined by what a property is worth.  Customers that typically produce more sewage will pay more.

What can we do if we oppose the assessment?

Before or at the assessment hearing, property owners can protest the assessment and if unresolved, the state tax tribunal will hear the case and issue a decision.  This is available for all property owners affected by the project.  We are not aware of any numerical analysis to determine whether an assessment is acceptable or not.  The criteria, to our understanding, assesses that the property benefits from the sewer proportional to the assessment. 

 

What happens when the source of collection and treatment services arbitrarily decides to raise rates?

The Townships and Village, through the SCSWA, will be an equal partner in the complete operation, maintenance, repair, replacement and ownership of the proposed collection and treatment system if a new wastewater treatment facility is constructed.  Local stakeholders will have direct control over rates and charges.  Should treatment remain with the City of Kalamazoo, the control for this aspect of the system/rates is relinquished and bound primarily by contractual provisions (which are usually entered into for long terms).  Such a contract establishes how rates are set and spread among system users.  The City of Kalamazoo cannot arbitrarily raise rates without the ability of the SCSWA to pursue legal recourse.