Residents speak out at sewer project hearing


In a meeting punctuated by heated debate, the Brown County Regional Sewer District Board took public comment last night on its plans to build a sewer system to serve Bean Blossom.

About 40 people showed up to hear about the need for the project, what it’s going to cost residents and what building it — or not building it — might mean for the future of their community.

By and large, the members of the public who chose to comment after the hourlong presentation were critical of the plan. A Nashville police officer was called shortly into the start of the public comment period when resident Sherrie Mitchell refused to yield the floor after her two minutes at the mic were up.

“I’m sorry, I’m not going to allow that,” she answered, when sewer board President Judy Swift Powdrill told her she was over her allotted time.

“I have every right to come in here and talk as long as I want. … You guys got an hour, so I’m thinking I have an hour,” Mitchell said.

Swift Powdrill then banged the gavel and said she was going to adjourn the meeting. The audience objected, loudly.

The meeting continued, though; and for nearly an hour and a half, speakers kept coming to the mic, asking questions and making comments about how getting sewer service will affect their properties and their pocketbooks and what say they have in the matter.

About 275 customers would be served with this project, along State Road 135 North and its offshoots in the Bean Blossom area, the Bean Blossom Trailer Court, Old Settlers Road, Bittersweet Road, Little Fox Lake, Woodland Lake, Covered Bridge Road and Freeman Ridge Road, as well as parts of State Road 45 and Gatesville Road.

Board members estimate that it will take about three years for a new wastewater plant to be built.

The plan is for the sewer board to apply for a combination of low-interest loans and grants from state and federal sources to pay for it. It’s estimated to cost $7.355 million.

Sewer customers in that service area would pay a monthly sewer bill. The board hopes that it can be kept within the $65 to $85 range, but they won’t know for sure what is possible until they hear from the funding agencies.

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Four of the five sewer board members, all of whom are volunteers, said that improving and protecting the environment is the root reason why they want to see a Bean Blossom-area sewer system finally get built. The project has been talked about since the early 2000s.

One of the longest-serving members of the board, Deborah Larsh, said she initially joined the sewer board to fight the project, but as she learned more about it, she decided it would be a positive thing, because she wants to see the community grow back into the thriving place it used to be.

Bean Blossom used to have three or four gas stations, three restaurants and beautiful trees that arched over the highway like big umbrellas, she said. Now it has no gas stations, its only grocery store closed and was later turned into a Dollar General, and its remaining restaurant and landmark music park have been put on notice because of septic disposal challenges, speakers said.

“I don’t want to see Bean Blossom die,” said Larsh, who’s lived there most of her life.

Regarding the sewer project, “We’ve been to the edge of this cliff several times, only to get pulled back, so I’m hoping we can finally put on those parachutes and fly off that cliff and get it done,” she said.

Mitchell challenged the notion that building sewers will bring back any of the businesses that Bean Blossom used to have. Back then, they were running on septic systems, like most of the county is now, Mitchell said. Larsh said some of those businesses may have had outhouses.

Sewer board member Clint Studabaker, a retired environmental and civil engineer, said the danger in not having sewers is that E.coli and other types of bacteria can leach into groundwater and streams, such as Bean Blossom Creek. That’s a common occurrence all over America, he said, specifically mentioning an enteric disease outbreak in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the early 1990s that killed 104 people.

Bean Blossom Creek has been on the state’s “impaired waters” list for several years because of the high levels of E.coli in it, Studabaker said.

Board member Phil LeBlanc, a retired soil scientist, said that the average age of septic systems in the Bean Blossom area is 58 to 60 years old, which means many of them were built prior to state standards being developed in 1977. That leads sewer board and health department staff to believe that it’s highly probable many of those systems are failing, just as they were when the town extended sewer to the Coffey Hill and Orchard Hill neighborhoods. Failing systems cause contamination, LeBlanc said.

“Bean Blossom Creek is a lovely stream, but all indications are that we do have water quality problems from E.coli, and they do exceed the safe standards for safe recreational use along most of the stream reaches. And that is what we are trying to help solve are those kinds of problems,” he said.

Multiple speakers asked the board for specific data on failing septics in the Bean Blossom area. Bean Blossom also has a high population of cows and other livestock; how could they be sure that the E.coli was coming from human waste and not animal waste, they asked.

The board did not have data to show where the definitely failing septic systems are in the sewer project area.

However, board member Mike Leggins testified about homes that he owns having septic overflow problems, and other residents in his area of Bean Blossom not being able to flush their toilets on rainy days. Some lots are not large enough or too hilly to put a new septic system on, so without sewers, those systems are going to continue to fail.

“If you have a failing system, you need to be for it (the sewer project). What are you going to do?” he asked.

Other commenters had trouble with the way this sewer project came about. Board members acknowledged that they had not personally contacted all of the households in the project area to tell them that this project was being considered, and had not sent out surveys asking if residents wanted sewer.

Resident Chris Ross asked if the board had made a final decision, and Larsh answered, “As it was presented today, yes.”

Ross asked if residents had any say in whether they want sewer or not, and engineer Gary Ladd said that that was the purpose of the hearing.

“So do residents’ opinions count?” Ross asked.

She also asked how low-income people are going to pay the monthly sewer bill, which is estimated to be at least $65 a month.

Brown County Redevelopment Commission President Jim Kemp said that if residents can’t afford the $65 a month, they also probably can’t afford to put in a new septic system either, which is the alternative.

“Where’s your data that proves we don’t have failed septic systems in that area?” he asked Ross.

Ross said that wasn’t her responsibility; she’s not on the sewer board.

“What is it you appear to all be so angry about?” Kemp asked.

“Subdivisions” and “distrust” were some of the words shouted from the audience. Ross said she had a problem with the process, about the board not reaching out to residents to make them part of the decision.

Kemp said sewers have to be installed because Brown County’s population is projected to decline over the next 20 to 30 years, and safe, affordable housing and jobs are needed to stabilize the population. With fewer people living in the county, the amount of taxes each person has to pay to support essential services is going to go up, he said.

“So do you let the county implode in on itself? Do you shut down everything … turn the roads back to gravel?” he asked.

Some folks, including resident and business owner Sandy Fields, said they like living their “country ways” in Brown County, and that includes gravel roads and few neighbors.

Resident and business owner Jan Stout wanted to know “where the subdivisions are going to go,” and was so upset about that concept that she didn’t allow Kemp to answer her. She left the meeting shortly after.

Studabaker said this project is aimed at people who are currently living here, to help them fix the wastewater problems they already have. Building a central wastewater treatment plant for the Bean Blossom area is better for the environment in general and for individual homeowners as well, he said, because it frees up the ground they’re currently using to filter their wastewater to be used for other things.

“Nobody’s making any financial gain; it’s trying to look at what the real issues are on the ground, and how can we attack them to start to bring them into some kind of usable condition for your property,” he said.

Read more in the June 27 paper.


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