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Absentee ballots to determine central sewer system for Findley Lake

June 1, 2017
By David Prenatt - , Westfield Republican

FINDLEY LAKE - As of 8 p.m. Friday, a majority of Findley Lake property owners voted against the construction of a central sewer system, but there are still enough absentee ballots out to change the outcome.

Out of 350 votes cast by people who own property within the proposed sewer district area, 182 voted no and 158 voted yes. However, there are 76 absentee ballots that have yet to be collected and counted. These will be tallied, and the official result known at 10 a.m. June 3.

On Feb. 29, council members unanimously voted to pursue a plan to create a sewer district and pursue grants to build a sewer system. The estimated cost of the project is slightly more than $14 million but could go as high as $15 million.

Town of Mina Supervisor Rebecca Brumagin spent the day at the community center as the votes were cast. She described those who came to vote as very respectful and nice.

"We were very appreciative of that," she added.

Brumagin said she had no idea how the vote would turn out.

"I actually didn't try to predict it," Brumagin said. "I didn't have a sense for it at all."

Brumagin emphasized that her greatest concern of the past few months has been to disseminate enough information so that property owners could make an informed decision.

"My concern was making sure that we got the information out to people and it was accurate information," Brumagin said. "My perspective in this was always to give people as much information as possible so they could decide. People ask me if I advocate it (the sewer plant) and I say, 'that's not my job.'"

Prior to Friday's vote, property owners in the proposed sewer district received an informational packet in the mail and were invited to an informational meeting on May 19 at the Findley Lake Fire Hall.

The proposition to establish the Findley Lake Sewer District was put forward partially as a response to Chautauqua County's Mandatory Inspection Program for Lakeshore Onsite Wastewater Treatment systems.

According to the Chautauqua County Department of Health, "public health risks related to declining lake water quality are increasing in Chautauqua County." Therefore, "all onsite wastewater treatment systems within 50 feet of the lake shore and 40 percent of the onsite wastewater treatment systems within 250 feet of the lake shore are short-circuiting and contaminating the lake water and groundwater."

The Chautauqua County Department of Health estimates that there are 275 homes and businesses within 250 feet of the lakeshore. Of these, 152 are subject to the mandatory inspection program, which will be initiated in June if the proposed sewer district is voted down.

Property owners in the proposed district were also provided with estimated costs of replacing onsite wastewater treatment systems, based on systems recently installed around Chautauqua Lake.

According to the Chautauqua County Department of Health, a system on a lot that meets all offset requirements and is fairly level ranges from $4,000 to $12,000, while replacing an entire system on a small lot that cannot achieve offsets, ranges from $15,000 to $20,000, plus engineering costs.

If the final tally next Friday still results in a no vote, Brumagin said, the next step will be to prepare a summarization of all that has been done. "And then, because the people have spoken, we will file everything away."

If this occurs, however, the county will begin mandated inspections for any septic system within 250 feet of the lake and for any system more than 30 years old or not on file with the state, Brumagin said. "They have been very clear on that."

"If the absentee ballots swing the final decision to yes, there will a lot of work to do," Brumagin said. "The town will immediately begin applying for grants to help defray the cost. In particular, there are two large grants available - one that would pay up to 25 percent of the cost, and one that could provide up to $5 million. Applications for these grants are due at the end of June and the end of July, respectively."

"This would be very helpful for people because then they would see how much the cost could go down," Brumagin added.

Town officials would also have to engage an engineering firm and begin designing the sewer system. Additionally, a location would have to be chosen for the wastewater treatment plant, she said.

When asked if she would have preferred that the matter was resolved when the polls closed, Brumagin replied, "No. I prefer that everyone who wanted to be heard, will be heard." She noted that the vote was scheduled for Memorial Day weekend to make it convenient for property owners to cast their ballots.

"We have a lot of people who live out of town who couldn't make it, though," she added.



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