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State moderates discussion of water system between Sylvan and Chelsea

Sylvan Township Hall

Representatives from Chelsea, Sylvan Township, and the state Department of Environmental Quality met on Friday, Sept. 28 to discuss possible scenarios for the township’s water system, which has just 110 customers, but which was built for about 1,300 customers.

State Rep. Mark Ouimet, R-Scio Twp., brought together representatives from the State Department of Environmental Quality, the city and township officials, to discuss possibilities for the system’s future.

Among the ideas floated were “mothballing” the water system, the city selling water to the township’s customers, selling the system to Chelsea, connecting the two municipalities’ systems, and joint ownership of the Sylvan system.

“I wanted them to look at all alternatives that could benefit both parties,” Ouimet said.

Any agreement comes down to a number of factors, including costs and mutual benefits.

The township is on the hook for $12.5 million in bonds for its sewer and water system and residents recently approved a 4.4 mil tax levy for 20 years to pay off this debt, (plus $1.2 million it owes to the county treasurer’s office for money it advanced the township when developer’s failed to pay a special assessment for the system).

Township officials were looking for information from the state about the possibility of taking the water system off line and the regulations for maintaining it during that period of time.

If the township took the system off line, could Chelsea provide water to the customers serviced by the township system? And if so, what would it cost the former township customers? (Most township residents have private well and septic and this public system was built to service a large development that has yet to break ground.)

Chelsea, on the other hand, has public water, sewer and electricity, but officials said that any potential agreement must hold harmless its current customers and residents.

Dan Wyatt, director of the state’s DEQ, reiterated the main points brought forward by the officials during the discussion.

  1. Could the two entities partner in an agreement that would benefit both the city and the township?
  2. Can the state help Sylvan them find a way to identify the costs of “mothballing” the water system?
  3. What are state requirements to maintain the township system if it’s mothballed?

“From the Sylvan point of view, how do you deal with and service the financial obligations and find a way to work out a 10- or 20-year agreement (with Chelsea),” Ouimet asked.

“From the Chelsea side, you’re right. You can’t damage your customers to bring Sylvan in. If there’s a gap, or shortfall, how do you fill that gap?” he said.

The state offered to research “creative ideas” that could be a basis for an agreement and also look into the regulations for the sale of bottled water, an idea that was brought forward by a Sylvan Township representative.

It was also suggested that the state help the township development a business plan, with the true costs for shutting down the system, maintaining it while it’s offline, and what it would take to bring it back online in the future.

Wyatt suggested that the two communities meet again in December, once the new township board is in office, then look forward, rather than backward, and enter future discussions in good faith, looking for win-win situations for both.

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