Douglas Officials Facing Tough Questions Over Non-Existent Water Main
Following a strong public outcry, the Douglas City Council decided Monday night to temporarily put a hold on scheduling a public hearing for a proposed assessment district for the installation of a water main serving nine homes located in a central part of the city along sections of Fremont and Ellis streets.
City officials say a water main is necessary if a proper, up-to-standards water connection system is to serve homes in the proposed Fremont-Ellis Street Water Main Special Assessment District instead of the current “spaghetti lines” that now provide water to the area.
“I think it’s a good idea to eliminate as many of the backyard connections as possible,” said Douglas City Engineer Brian Vilmont of Prein Newhof Engineering.
“The council has not voted it (on the proposed project); the urgency by two properties (recently built) started this process…we are gathering information,” said Douglas City Member Lisa Greenwood in response to a clearly frustrated and vexed crowd at the meeting.
One question that remains outstanding, which city officials say they will hash out in a workshop session, is who will pay for the project and how much of it they will pay. It could end up being the city or the affected homeowners or both the city and the homeowners.
The discussion on Monday became heated and it brought to the surface grave, but previously unaddressed issues, including lack of a water master plan and lack of a map of the city’s water system which could
show what properties, for example, are connected by means of “spaghetti lines” as opposed to a proper water-main connection.
And still another problem surfaced Monday: newly constructed homes being issued all the local required approvals - building permits, zoning permits, water and sewer approvals - without actually having any type of approved water service.
Local resident Robert Engel’s comments at Monday’s meeting exemplified the frustration felt by property owners within the proposed district.
“I have lived at this house (147 Fremont St.) for 47 years. All of a sudden (I’m being told by the city) my water service is not good anymore.”
Janice Krakowski, another affected property owner, asked about the two newly constructed homes that sparked the current issue (one on Ellis Street and the other the red house at the corner of Mixer and Fremont streets.,
“Who the heck approved these two properties?…I know these are over $250,000 homes. Why give permits to build if nobody had a clue there was no water service?” asked Krakowski.
Many of the affected owners said they felt they were being adversely penalized for what they said was a problem they did not create.
“I understand it’s (the existing water connection system) antiquated, (but) the cost should not be charged on these small amount of residents,” said local builder Dana White.
For city officials and property owners alike, the issue is further exacerbated by the uncertainty of who exactly is responsible for the mess as alluded to by Douglas Mayor Pro Tem Martha Hoexter, when she said: “Ever since we became a city, we are paying for the sins of the past. What are we going to do? We can’t leave it as it is. The past is the past, and now we have to go forward.”
And Douglas City Council Member Greg Harvath said, “We are all learning here. Frankly, I don’t know if any of us here (on this council) could positively tell you where our water is hooked up.”
Harvath is calling on the Kalamazoo Lake Sewer & Water Authority to provide a map of the water systems. KLSWA representatives say that is a project they are working on.
If city officials should decide that 100 percent of the costs of putting in a water main should be borne by the land owners benefiting from the water main connection - as the original proposed resolution called for - then each of the property owners would be expected to pay an estimated $11,000 over, for example, what could be a 10-year period.
“There is here the issue of fairness and equity,” said affected home owner Bill Schumacher. “That (money for the water main) should come (out of) the general fund.”
Indeed, city officials could also choose to distribute the costs as a city-at-large program or have both the city and those properties benefiting from the project share in the costs. The project is estimated to cost over $100,000, including creation of a water main, pavement removal and pavement restoration.