Council Amends City Code To Allow For Septic Fields In Critical Dunes
Septic fields are now permissible in critical sand dune areas within the City of Saugatuck as an alternative to connecting to the municipal sewer system.
The Saugatuck City Council approved the amendment to the city code Monday in a five-to-one roll call vote, with Saugatuck City Council Member Barry Johnson being the dissenting voice.
The move was postponed at the previous council meeting two weeks ago because council wanted to get legal advice on certain aspects of the amendment.
Monday’s approval opens the doors for Grand Rapids’ developer David Barker to be able to submit a request to the city to install drain fields as part of a septic waste system, a plan—like any other plan from any other developer—that would have to be reviewed and approved or denied by the city.
Barker, present at Monday’s meeting, wants to prepare the former Presbyterian Church Camps property, just south of Oval Beach, for 21 upscale homes on 130-acres. He has asserted on numerous occasions that septic fields are less expensive and less disruptive to dunes. As far as water is concerned, he plans on connecting to the city’s water system.
But his plans does have its critics. “This is putting the cart way, way before the horse,” said Johnson, explaining the council should require more detailed plans from Barker. Concerned about gratuitous damage to the dunes, the trees, the overall physical impact, Johnson said he had only seen drawings of homes but nothing about septic fields.
“Somebody is going to buy that property and the DEQ (Michigan Department of Environmental Quality) or other regulatory agency is going to come, and what if they say, ‘You can’t put septic fields here.’”
Johnson expressed the same concerns at the previous council meeting. In contrast, Barker told the Observer Newspapers on Monday that the DEQ had in fact already reviewed where the septic fields will be going, and the regulatory agency found no problems.
As for Johnson’s colleagues, they differed in their opinions from him. “As a utility you always want more users (customers); that increase is great as a whole, but there is a practicality to it,” said Saugatuck Council Member Mark Bekken, who also is the board president of the Kalamazoo Lake Sewer and Water Authority.
“Personally and as a council member, I have some concerns about tearing up Perryman Street (which would possibly be required if Barker decided to go with municipal connections),” said Bekken, who noted he is also concerned about liability. The city would be fully responsible, not the developer, if problems such as broken lines would arise.
And Saugatuck Mayor Bill Hess explained before Monday’s vote, “We are not approving the installation of septic fields; we are approving the mechanism that will allow them to be approved (via city review).”
Monday’s amendment was previously postponed because council wanted to first get legal counsel advice about whether or not the city could legally oblige a developer/ property owner to make monetary contributions to the sewer utility service as a form of compensation for not connecting to the municipal sewer system.
Legal counsel recommended the city against such a measure. If it was legally doable that the city could demand a payment in lieu of municipal connection, city officials figured they would introduce it as one of the provisions in city code.