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Residents angered over lift station placement

SLAYTON -- A special meeting to address the fate of several lift stations in the Shetek Area Water and Sewer (SAWS) District took place in Murray County Monday.

Residents unhappy with the placement of the lift stations want the county to do something, while Murray County commissioners are pushing the responsibility on the SAWS Commission. SAWS, in turn, is casting blame on engineering firm Bolton and Menk, whose representatives have said, "We weren't told not to" and "We're looking into that."

Several residents came to the meeting with lawyers in tow, and those attorneys agreed something needs to change or legal action may be required. While one attorney stated lift station No. 3 is actually in a different spot than the conditional use permit (CUP) claims, Murray County Attorney Paul Malone said little, not making any statements or committing to any course of action on the subject.

Murray County Commission Chairman Kevin Vickerman said he has not yet been told whether the lift stations legally have to be moved. If they do, determining who has to pay for the moves -- at a cost of up to $600,000 -- will be the next step.

Residents are less concerned with who will pay, claiming the stations are ruining the value of their property. Those at the meeting were given an opportunity to come forward and speak, one lift station at a time.

Lift Station No. 1

Don Haubrich, who lives across the street from lift station No. 1, said his home is now unfit to live in due to the odor from the station and the noise, vibrations and diesel fumes from the constantly-running generator. The station, which he was told would hardly be visible, sits more than two feet higher than the road and closed off 60 feet of the ditch, causing a three-foot pile of snow between the lift station and his garage this past winter.

Earl Linder, who lives 250 feet east of lift station No. 1, said the canisters that were added to control odor are eye sores, sitting on a platform built with 2x4s and using cardboard to hold them up.

Jon Peterson of Bolton and Menk said his firm is still trying to track down the reason the generators keep running when they shouldn't, but that it is not under its control.

Complaints of odor were addressed by placing canisters with filters next to the stations, but residents say it's not enough. Peterson said the firm is now considering adding a chemical feed to the stations to combat odor.

Lift Station No. 2

When Denny Johnson bought two lots on Lake Shetek several years ago, he was told they would not be part of the sewer district. Yet, after building a house on the lots, he came home one day and found a sign marking the boundary of the district was gone. His land had been put into the district and the project.

Johnson said at one point last summer the odor from the station was so bad that he and his wife had to move out and stay in a motel in Marshall. The odor problem is getting better, he admitted, but isn't completely gone yet. Johnson claims the station has destroyed his property value and way of life.

"The only way to fix this is to move them all and put them where they belong," he said. "I don't care what the expense is."

Vickerman said there is a blurring of the lines on the obligations of the project.

"The project was designed and chosen by SAWS," he said. "They were responsible for building it; we were responsible for funding it."

He believes it was not the county board's obligation to say where things went.

"But it was the county commissioners that hired the engineering firm," SAWS member Ted Haugen commented.

Lift Station No. 3

Lake Sarah Township Supervisor Charles Swan said he has the same complaints about a noisy generator and horrible odor, and that the lift station is in the right-of-way.

Swan introduced the township's attorney, Troy Gilchrist, who said the map received by the township showed the station 100 feet out of the right-of-way.

"Then I was told the engineering firm sent out the wrong map," Gilchrist said. "The bottom line is it appears as though this could have been avoided if people had been notified upfront."

The township, Gilchrist said, is not interested in assigning blame -- it just wants the station moved back and the ditch restored. It will even provide an access road and keep it clear during the winter. Gilchrist advised the county to move the station so legal action would not be necessary.

Vickerman stated the map showing the location of the station was available for eight months before the station was built, and that the county wasn't responsible for all the maps floating around.

John Nelson brought a picture of the lift station by his house and an attorney, Sarah Wilson, who pointed out that confusion came from different agencies being responsible for different things.

Wilson claimed the conditional use permit for the No. 3 station contains a map that shows the station in another location -- and that the county has an ordinance requiring a 150-foot setback from the center line of a road.

"I've been saying all along that this violated the CUP,' Moline said. "I am disgusted this has all gone on as long as is has. I am sick of this."

Murray County Zoning Administrator Jean Christoffels said the CUP is for any lines or structures needed for the sewer collection system and does not name a specific site for the stations. The two maps filed with the CUP do not show the correct position of the station, but rather show two different sites. One set of plans shows a different location entirely; the other shows the Pleasant View cul de sac location but on the east side, not the west.

But, Christoffels said, all of the conditions of the permit are being met. There is only one, which states all governmental rules and laws that apply to the project must by complied with. As for the right-of-way argument, all of the sewer lines are either going through a right-of-way or an easement has been acquired.

Still in limbo

At the end of the meeting, nothing had been decided, and no one had been appeased.

Peterson said Bolton and Menk is working to address the odor issues and the generator problems, but as for relocating stations, he needs further direction.

"At no point were we given feedback during the design process to relocate," he stressed. "I feel we made a good faith effort to get the information out."

Vickerman said it needs to be decided whether or not the stations can legally stay in the rights-of-way they are in or if they need to be relocated. Lift Station No. 3, he said, can be moved north without too much trouble, but No. 1 and No. 2, if moved, would just end up in someone else's neighborhood.

"And nobody wants it in their back yard," Commissioner John Giese stated.

"If we don't do something, we are going to have lawsuits against the county," Moline said. "And we'll probably have to move them anyway."

SAWS member Dean Salmon said it all comes down to whose backyard the stations get pushed into and who is going to pay to move them.

"As for what is fair, I don't have any golden answers," he said. "I don't know where the money is going to come from."

"I know almost everyone in the room thinks the engineers should pay for the move," Vickerman commented.