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Foe of sewer plant plan starts effort to recall Ontwa Township officials

The effort is in the early stages, but it underscores the intense opposition to the plant, which would discharge into Cobus Creek.

Posted on May 15, 2014 at 6:35 p.m.

One of the foes of the proposed sewer treatment plant that would discharge into Cobus Creek is seeking to recall the officials who pushed for the project.

The effort is still in the initial stages, but it underscores the intensity of the opposition to the Ontwa Township, Mich., project, which calls for construction of a treatment plant along the Garver Lake outlet, southeast of Edwardsburg, Mich. The plant would process sewage collected in and around Ontwa Township and discharge into the outlet, which leads to Cobus Creek in Elkhart County.

Nick Donis, who lives along Garver Lake and helps lead Save Our Resources and Environment, or SORE, filed paperwork this week to start the process in the Cass County, Mich., Clerk’s Office. A hearing is scheduled for May 23 to determine whether the petition is “clear and factual,” Donis said Wednesday, May 18.

Targeted in the effort are five of seven members of the Ontwa Township Board: Supervisor John Brielmaier, Treasurer Meryl Christensen, Clerk Paula Ralph and trustees Norman Krupp and Nathan Brousseau. The reason cited for the push, according to the draft recall petition, is the Feb. 10 vote by the Ontwa Township Board to approve a contract between Ontwa Township and Cass County to build the treatment facility.

Donis argues that construction of the facility could lead to a legal tussle with the city of Elkhart. As is, Ontwa Township contracts with Elkhart to treat sewage and wastewater coming from the Michigan locale. If the new facility started operating, the township would presumably cancel the deal, potentially precipitating a lawsuit from Elkhart for breach of contract. That, Donis worries, could result in increased costs for Ontwa Township and local taxpayers.

The Ontwa Township sewer plant plans have generated strong opposition from those living along Cobus Creek, both in Elkhart County and across the state line in Ontwa Township. They worry discharge would harm Cobus Creek, though plant proponents have said it wouldn’t adversely impact the waterway.

Even if officials on May 23 look favorably on the recall proposal, it faces many hurdles. Proponents would have to gather 457 signatures on each of the five petitions in a 60-day window, according to Donis. Then the matter would go to the Nov. 4 general election ballot, when voters would be asked if they want to retain the officials in question or replace them with alternates.

Two Ontwa Township Board members aren’t targeted in the effort: trustees Jerry Duck and Jerry Marchetti.

'DEMONSTRATED INABILITY OR UNWILLINGNESS'

The sewer plant plans also came up for discussion at an Ontwa Township Board meeting Monday and a new board was formed to oversee project particulars, in response to the concerns.

On Tuesday, the Elkhart Board of Public Works discussed presenting input to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality on the Ontwa Township plans, but tabled formal action. The formal comment period for the plans, under review by MDEQ, has not yet started.

Nonetheless, the Elkhart Public Works and Utilities Department has put together a draft response, expressing opposition to the Ontwa Township plans. The draft letter cites Ontwa Township’s “demonstrated inability or unwillingness” to comply with terms of the accord it has with the city of Elkhart to treat wastewater.

The presence of a corrosive substance in the system Elkhart and Ontwa Township share led to the 2011 collapse of a segment of the network. The substance came from Ontwa Township and Elkhart officials have complained that reps in the neighboring local haven’t done enough to remedy the situation.

Follow reporter Tim Vandenack on Twitter @timvandenack or visit him on Facebook.


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