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Residents question extension of sewer to Diamond Lake

ATWATER -- Based on the questions and comments during informational meetings over the weekend in Atwater, it's obvious not all 300 homeowners around Diamond Lake are keen about a proposal to link up with the Green Lake Sanitary Sewer and Water District.

But there may not be many choices.

With 70 percent of the existing septic systems on the lake deemed out of compliance and a state-mandated deadline of October 2010 to fix it, time is running out.

Installing a low-pressure loop around the lake to carry waste-water to the GLSSWD treatment facility near Spicer is the homeowner's "most economic option," said Brad DeWolf, engineer from Bolton and Menk .

But the $6 million project, which will mean $16,329 in construction assessments and about $500 in annual fees for each lot, has some concerned.

"We're in tough times in the country right now," said Eugene Anderstrom. "It's a tough time to be shoving a sewer system on us."

Anderstrom said Diamond Lake residents are "already taxed to death out there," and the assessments and fees are "going to kill a lot of our lake people."

Public Works Director Gary Danielson acknowledged the project will cost homeowners money, but he said the residents on Diamond Lake "really do have a problem that needs to be solved" and the loop system is the "best solution" to solve it.

"The question is, if you don't go ahead, what's going to happen?" said Danielson.

Many homeowners who have septic systems or holding tanks that are out of compliance, too small or are failing are "just holding on" until the loop system is installed, he said. "Doing nothing is not an option."

For the past 1½ years, a committee of Diamond Lake residents studied ways to address the sanitary sewer issue around the lake.

A 2008 survey indicated most Diamond Lake homeowners didn't want to hook up to the GLSSWD, which currently has lines that extend to Spicer, New London, Green Lake, Lake Florida, George Lake, Henderson Lake and a portion of Nest Lake.

The city of Kandiyohi, which was recently added to the district, received a $3 million federal stimulus grant this year that will pay most of the cost for installing the trunk line from Kandiyohi to Spicer. That line will go right by Diamond Lake.

If Diamond Lake is added to the district, each lot will be assessed about $2,000 less than previously expected because of the federal grant, said Danielson. That economic good fortune is part of what makes the option a good choice for Diamond Lake residents, he said.

About 150 people attended the information meeting on Friday night at the Atwater Community Center and another 60 were at the Saturday morning session, where duplicate information was presented.

The Kandiyohi County Commissioners, Danielson and DeWolf answered a steady stream of questions for 1½ hours at both meetings.

Besides questioning the cost of the proposed common loop system, others wanted to know why Diamond Lake was being targeted for the sewer system and if, when installed, it would actually help the water quality of the lake.

Because about 10 percent of the current phosphorous load into the lake has been determined to come from the existing septic systems -- with the remainder coming from drainage ditches and water run-off -- a new loop system will help the lake but won't solve all the problems, said Danielson. The new system would have a positive effect on groundwater issues, he said.

Gene Platt questioned why his septic system, and about 20 others, had been certified to be in compliance by the county zoning office, but shortly afterwards was found to be out of compliance when a private company did inspections on the lake. He said the county made an error that he'll end up paying for.

"The county is supposed to be the watch dog, but the watch dog was sleeping," said Platt.

Commissioner Harlan Madsen said the county only certifies that the system was installed "as it was designed" by the septic company, but does not do actual soil testing when septic systems are installed.

"I understand your frustration," said Madsen, adding that new rules will require that two designers be involved with soil borings to make sure there's proper separation.

If the Diamond Lake project proceeds, a homeowner won't be required to hook up immediately if their septic system is in compliance. But there are financial incentives to do so.

Waiting until later will mean homeowners will have to purchase and install a grinder, dismantle the existing septic tank and pay an additional $2,000 hookup fee.

Those added charges would also apply to the second tier homes around the lake.

Individuals with their septic systems won't be able to fix any problems in the future, said Danielson. They will be required to hook into the loop and treatment system. "That's the rules you'll be operating under," he said.

DeWolf said once Kandiyohi is using the sewer system, and if Diamond Lake joins the district, the treatment plant would be at 80 percent capacity during a peak day in July. No more lakes would be added to the district after that, he said, despite inquiries from other lake communities, like Games Lake and Norway Lake.

Commissioner Harlan Madsen said the Commissioners won't make a decision until after the public hearing, which will be held at 7 p.m. on Sept. 18 at the Atwater Community Center.

Madsen said some people will no doubt disagree with whatever decision the Commissioners make.

If the project does proceed, construction would begin in the spring and be completed in time to meet the state's November deadline.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750