By Benjamin Gohs
Sommerset Pointe, Eveline Township and Boyne City will meet this week to revisit the sewer and water agreement that was flushed nearly seven years ago.
Now nearing maximum capacity with its on-site wastewater treatment system, Sommerset Pointe Yacht Club & Marina was all set to build a new facility on a hill in a 28-acre parcel of land on Marshall Road until some nearby property owners complained.
“In the dialogue we had in the meeting on Tuesday (Sept. 9) night at the township hall (Eveline) I explained the details of the system and that these systems are in use in the Northern Michigan area and are running efficiently,” said Sommerset Pointe developer Fred Taylor of the proposed Marshall Road facility. “A lot of people’s concerns or anxieties of water rolling down the hill are unfounded. The facts show there are no environmental concerns or runoff affect at all for anybody with a home nearby.”
The concerns were first voiced by several property owners—whose opposition group is called “Keepers of the Hill”—at the Aug. 19 Eveline Township Planning Commission public hearing on the matter wherein Sommerset Pointe was unanimously granted a special use permit to build the wastewater treatment facility on the Marshall Road site.
“Our goal is to bring attention to the environmental impact and degradation of the properties surrounding the plant,” said Keepers of the Hill spokesman and neighboring property owner Robin Lee Berry. “We believe the site is unsuitable for a sewage treatment plant.”
She added, “We’re trying to encourage Sommerset to seek a different location.”
According to Boyne City Manager Michael Cain, the township, Sommerset Pointe development and city had reached and signed an agreement back around 2006-2007 but said he is unsure why it never came to fruition.
“Ultimately, Fred Taylor and Eveline Township have to figure out what’s best for them,” said Cain. “We’re willing to sit down and talk and hear what anybody has to say.”
Cain said Boyne City’s water and wastewater treatment facility could easily handle the addition of Sommerset Pointe as well as any residences between the yacht club and Boyne City that may wish to hook up to the system.
A tentative meeting of the three entities is planned for Thursday Sept. 18.
Taylor said there were several reasons the deal stalled last time, including alleged talk that Boyne City had plans to annex portions of Eveline Township—which Cain said simply is not true.
Taylor also said the downturn in the economy left the development with fewer units sold than anticipated and, since wastewater systems require a minimum flow to work efficiently, Sommerset Pointe ended up not needing the additional capacity until now.
Taylor said he wanted the same deal that Boyne Mountain received from the city when it tied into Boyne’s municipal wastewater system. However, Taylor said the city stipulated that only residential customers—not commercial interests—could tie into the system along the way.
“The one thing I asked for was the same agreement the city had when running out to Boyne Mountain,” said Taylor. “If the city agrees to make it very clean with—same as with Boyne Mountain—very direct language, the city incurs no cost and then we would immediately put resources into that.”
He added, “I’m excited about the possibility. But some time in the next few weeks I will need an answer from the city whether or not it agrees to that.”
Taylor said he is ready to send the Marshall Road plant job out for bids if an agreement cannot be reached, adding that he wants to have the new wastewater line in by the spring.
“This would be good for the community, good for the city, and the most important thing to be taken into consideration is the seepage of almost a hundred homes along Lake Shore Drive—this would be an opportunity to remove that run-off going into Lake Charlevoix,” Taylor said. “My hope is the city would embrace this and not put any limitations on anything in the township.”
Taylor emphasized that he anticipates no cost to the city taxpayers, as Sommerset Pointe would pay to run the lines to the city.
Berry said, if an alternative to the Marshall Road site cannot be found, The Keepers of the Hill may appeal the special use permit. The deadline to appeal the permit is Friday Sept. 19.
Dan Barron, of the Charlevoix law firm Barron & Engstrom, presented Sommerset Pointe’s proposal at the Tuesday Aug. 19 public hearing on the matter.
“This is a situation that dates back all the way to 2005 … and the actual wastewater treatment plant issues first arose way back in 2006,” Barron said, adding that there had been numerous public hearings on the issue.
Once the site of the coal-powered Advance Power Plant, Sommerset Pointe consists of residential condominiums, a marina, yacht club and restaurant.
“Back, at the very onset of the project, it was proposed under the BMU zoned district—which is a planned unit development zoning chapter within Eveline Township—it was proposed at that point that there be a build out of Sommerset Pointe of ultimately 84 residential units together with the marina, together with other potential facilities which came to fruition, such as the restaurant and the yacht club,” Barron said. “And, it was recognized back then, based upon the limitations of on-site septic of disposal capacity that the build-out would ultimately require a off-site septic disposal.”
Barron said that, at that time (circa 2006) there were extensive negotiations with Boyne City and Eveline Township with the prospect of tying the project into Boyne City’s municipal sewer and water system. After between six months and a year’s time, a couple of agreements were reached that would allow the extension of the municipal sewer system. However, in the course of the negotiations, events transpired which made the potential agreement unattractive to both Sommerset Pointe Development and Eveline Township.
“The City of Boyne City refused, in that agreement, to permit any connections to the municipal sewer system for commercial or business purposes,” Barron said… “They also ultimately refused any connections to that system which were not immediately along the Lake Shore Drive corridors.”
Barron said Boyne City’s ultimate plan was to begin forced annexation of portions of Eveline Township as a result of the Sommerset Pointe build-out
“That obviously didn’t fly real well with a lot of people in Eveline Township,” Barron said. “That combination situation didn’t fly real well with Sommerset Pointe Development, either.”
Barron said through the subsequent 20-plus public hearings on the project, the prospect arose that Sommerset Pointe may end up seeking its own private wastewater treatment solution.
Then, in the end of 2006, Sommerset Pointe acquired a 28-acre parcel of property on Marshall Road for the potential treatment plant.
Barron said the property is ideal due to its heavily wooded landscape, distance from neighbors, topography and sparsely populated area, adding that the closest a residence is to an absorption field is 490 feet.
“DEQ was very pleased with this site,” Barron said. “There was very extensive investigation and soil borings analysis going on over a period of several years.”
Then, in 2009, a franchise agreement was reached between Sommerset Pointe Development and Eveline Township. The agreement provided Sommerset Pointe Development would have use of road right-of-ways to extend pipelines (along Wilson and Marshall roads) from the off-site wastewater treatment facility to Sommerset Pointe. What the township got out of the deal was up to 20 percent of the wastewater system’s capacity to be used for township residents.
In 2010, the DEQ issued a groundwater discharge permit for the project.
The project was originally approved for 84 units. The number was later lowered to the current density level of 60.
According to Barron, the septic flows were insufficient to move forward with the off-site septic system. But, now that the economy has improved and more units are coming online at the development, the amount of wastewater being produced necessitates a system with greater capacity.
The proposed Marshall Road treatment facility would handle a maximum of 27,000 gallons per day. The system would include four “slightly-below-grade” beds, a small building with control panels, a parking area for three or four parking spaces, and fencing and gates where necessary.
According to Barron, the amount of noise expected to be emitted from the system’s aerating motor will be “minimal to non-existent.”
There is a plan to move the mechanical building from one side of the property to the other in order to keep equipment even farther from residences.
The treatment system’s designer Roger Hague said there will never be standing water on the site, adding that the treatment plant itself is covered.
“There’s very little odor that will come from this place because the odor’s all processed in there,” Hague said… “The water that comes out of the plant ends up going through three different processes.”
Hague said the water that is eventually released into the rapid infiltration beds is nearly clear.
When the plant operates at full capacity, the sludge tanks will be emptied at a rate of roughly once per year.
Groundwater monitoring wells will be installed at the site.
Barron said the proposed system will not only benefit Sommerset Pointe but the environment overall by allowing some of those with failing or marginal systems to tap into the Marshall Road facility.
Question & answer
The treatment plant takes samples of the effluent it discharges twice per week and records those.
The township’s 20 percent equals 5,400 gallons. Average residential output is 250 gallons per day. The township would have rights for 22 residential equivalent units.
Candy Green said she lives directly north of the plant and downhill from it.
“We are concerned because we have found out that that hill—although you tell me it’s made out of sand—it really is made out of shale,” she said. “And, whether you know this or not, water doesn’t go through shale. It will go around and seep out.”
Green added, that her private dirt road washes out every time it rains and the additional water will be added to the rainwater, only exacerbating the problem.
Hague said the water from the treatment plant is never going to wash down the road because the system is designed to prevent that from happening.
“The rapid infiltration beds have dikes that are five feet high,” he said. “The water is going to go in there and it’s going to go down into the ground.”
Jeff Nelson said he was concerned with how the project will affect his property values. He asked what the worst-case scenario if the system were to fail.
Hague responded that whatever comes out of the plant is going to go into the groundwater.
Bob Albrecht asked how many pump stations will be needed to get the waste from Sommerset Pointe up to the Marshall Road site. He was told there will be one pump station on-site and one off-site.
The proposed building is 16 feet by 16 feet with 10 feet of roof line.
The plant will be monitored by a certified operator—three to five days per week—who must submit monthly reports to the DEQ.
Numerous audience members said they were concerned about their property values and the groundwater.
Planning commissioners discussed whether an environmental impact study should be required since the DEQ does not require either an environmental or a geological study because the proposed system is not large enough to be required under Michigan law.
It was agreed that the DEQ requirements were sufficient.
The next Eveline Township Planning Commission meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Tuesday Sept. 23.