Wayne Twp. to hold talk about waterline expansion

Published 8:47 am Thursday, January 16, 2014

Officials with Wayne Township will be gathering feedback from residents about the township’s planned waterline expansion during a public hearing Monday evening.

The meeting, which will take place at 7:30 p.m. at the Wayne Township Hall, is one of two hearings the township will hold to discuss the project. Officials will be on hand to share information about the planned expansion of Dowagiac’s water system, as well to listen to comments and concerns from the public.

The township will be using the responses received during the meeting to help develop their bid to contractors for the project, said Wayne Township Supervisor Frank Butts.

“We want people who live in the area to ask questions and get information about the project before we go forward with it,” Butts said.

Both Wayne Township and the City of Dowagiac have worked for more than a year to expand the latter’s water supply to a number of township households. The two embarked on the project after years of complaints that a number of the township’s well water supplies were contaminated by runoff from the city’s former landfill, located on Nubour Street.

“We’ve had complaints about the wells for more than five years,” Butts said. “Residents have had to dig deeper wells to reach deeper aquifers, but eventually those aquifers became contaminated as well.”

The contamination was the subject of a lawsuit against the City of Dowagiac by Wayne Township residents Jim and Carolyn West last year. The case was settled in November.

In order to fund the project, the township applied for grant money from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program, receiving $478,000 worth of earmarked funds back in December. While the City of Dowagiac has agreed to pay for 15 percent of the project’s estimated $1 million price tag, the rest of the cost will have to made up in increased property taxes for residents living in the 60 parcels of land the new pipeline will run through, Butts said.

“Not everyone is in favor of it,” he said. “There are some elderly residents who feel they are already paying taxes they can only just afford.”

While affected residents will have the choice of whether or not to hook their homes up to Dowagiac’s water system, all homes will benefit from the placement of new fire hydrants that will come with the expanded lines, Butt said.

“There will also be an increase in home values, due to the fact the homes have a reliable water source,” Butts said.

In addition to fronting part of the bill, the city will also provide maintenance to the new waterlines, and will also provide backup aid to Wayne Township fire crews in the event of any structure fires.

“We’re pleased to be working with the township on this,” said Dowagiac City Manager Kevin Anderson. “Not only will this take the city’s water system out to the Nubour area, but it will also enhance their fire protection.”

If the project proceeds along its estimated timeline, affected Wayne Township residents could be receiving city water in by next winter, Butts said. Officials will hold a second public hearing about the project in early spring, before construction work is slated to begin.

Butts, who has served as the township’s supervisor for 18 years, said he has talked to many of the households affected by the project, and understands the potential controversy surrounding the increased tax rate.

“I’m sure several property owners are opposed to the project, but a majority of the people I’ve spoke to understand why we’re doing this,” Butts said. “Nobody likes higher taxes, but I think they understand we’re doing this for their safety and well being.”