Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Rates too high, town seeks sewer solution

by Chris Schultz

February 28, 2013

LYONS TOWNSHIP — Rising sewer rates are forcing the town and its two sanitary districts to look for a solution that will take the pressure off its customers.

On Monday morning, representatives of Lyons Sanitary District 2, Country Estates Sanitary district and the Lyons town Board met with representatives of the state Public Service Commission to talk about sewerage rates.

In rare agreement, representatives from both districts say their rates are too high.

Residents of Lyons Sanitary District 2 are paying $85 a month for sewer service, said Jim DeLuca, chairman of the District 2 sanitary board.

Doug Day, a member of the Country Estates sanitary board and Lyons Town Board, said he pays $600 every three months for sanitary service.

"We are being charged unbelievably," said Day.

Day said the sanitary rates are chasing people from their homes in Country Estates, a community in which average incomes are considered to be low to moderate.

And Country Estates residents are facing an increase in their water rates, as well.

"We understand the financial difficulties that Country Estates is facing," said Jeff Ripp, an administrative assistant with the PSC. He said the PSC wants to help the two districts find a solution.

Joint history

The two districts are tied together by a history of conflict and disagreement.

Arielle Silver Karsh, PSC attorney, said she recognized that the difficulties between the two districts will make it hard to find a resolution.

"We realize there is a history between these two sanitary districts and the town," said Karsh.

They are also tied together by a brand new, state-of-the-art, very expensive sewage treatment plant that is run by District 2, but which also treats effluent from Country Estates.

The new $4 million treatment plant, which began service in 2011, was mandated by the state Department of Natural Resources, because the previous plant, also run by District 2, was near capacity and, at 30 years old, had pretty much reached the end of its operating life.

The advantage is that the new plant gives value to vacant land in the sewerage districts, said DeLuca. Unfortunately, there is no projected development in the area.

"There aren't a lot of options on the table," he said.

The districts are now paying off the loans necessary to pay for the new plant and paying for maintenance and capital costs to ensure this plant lasts as long as possible.

They also face having to comply with new phosphorus standards. That could cost $1 million or more for District 2, DeLuca said.

And Country Estates and District 2 are struggling over hydrogen sulfide. The compound forms as wastes are pumped from Country Estates to the District 2 treatment plant. It is corrosive to pipes and may create a deadly gas in the sewer lines that is a threat to life and health.

Country Estates is assessed a fine whenever the chemical exceeds limits set by contract.

Cynthia Ganka, a member of the Country Estates sanitary board, said the 0.2 parts per million limit set by District 2 is too stringent.

While there are occasional spikes of hydrogen sulfide, Country Estates is doing its part to control the problem. She said her district spends $17,000 a year for bioxide, a treatment that controls hydrogen sulfide.

Joint solution?

Despite their differences, the best solution may involve a merger of the two districts, Ripp said.

"The situation does not look like it's going to get better, and doing nothing does not appear to be an option," Ripp said.

The two districts may become one either through a process that requires a referendum, or creation of a utility service district by the town board.

Although they are linked by underground connections, the two sanitary districts are not contiguous, which is a barrier to merger.

However, Karsh said that District 2 could add territory to make the two districts contiguous and then they could merge.

"It's not an issue that they're not contiguous," said Karsh.

But that merger would require approval by the electors in both districts.

Or, the town board may form a utility district, said Jeff Ripp, assistant administrator with the PSC. Creation of the district would dissolve the two existing districts and would not require a referendum, Ripp said.

But whether merger, or new utility district would benefit customers by cutting costs is an open question.

Only 550 households between the two districts are served by the new treatment plant.

What the two districts need to do is add to their customer base and spread the costs, said Ripp.

Day wasn't sure that just merging the two districts would be enough.

"We need to head to Lake Geneva or Burlington, which is what we should have done in the first place," said Day. "All I see happening is that rates will continue to climb."