SOLDIERS GROVE AND GAYS MILLS - It was much like a slightly awkward first date, when the Soldiers Grove Village Board sat down with the Gays Mills Village Board to discuss a proposed joint sewer plant proposal for the first time.
The meeting took place on Thursday, Feb. 13 in Gays Mills with five members of each board present for the important gathering–probably a first in the history of the villages.
In addition to the village trustees present, both village presidents were there as well–Soldiers Grove Village President Paul Nicholson and Gays Mills Village President Harry Heisz.
Heisz, who acted as the chairperson for the meeting, made it clear that the meeting was very much just an introductory step in what could become a lengthy process.
“This meeting is to make sure that both boards are on the same page,” Heisz said in his opening remarks. “The point of this meeting is informational. We’re not here to make any decisions tonight.”
Soldiers Grove Village Trustee Steve George, that village’s former president, and Gays Mills Village Trustee Larry McCarn, that village’s former president, addressed their respective village’s views on recent dealings with Davy Engineering. Both cited examples where they felt the firm misrepresented itself.
Soldiers Grove Village President Paul Nicholson indicated that he felt the engineering firm had lied three times in recent dealings with the village.
The representatives of both villages seemed to think it was time to find a new engineering firm.
Gays Mills Village Trustee Kevin Murray noted the village had applied for an individual variance on meeting reduced phosphorous levels now required of sewer plant output and was waiting for confirmation it would be approved. The variance would give the village another five years to meet the new lower phosphorous levels.
Nicholson confirmed that Soldiers Grove was currently operating under such a variance and it had four years left on that variance.
Soldiers Grove Trustee Shayne Chapman explained that gaining some clarity on the way forward with a new joint sewer plant would help in making decisions on spending on the village’s current plant.
Steve George explained the question to be resolved was whether it was feasible for each village to have their own sewer plants or whether it was more feasible for both villages to work together on a building a new sewer plant.
Chapman asked if the villages worked together on a new plant would the school be on board for the project.
Heisz, who works as the director of maintenance at the North Crawford Schools, said he doubted that the school district would be interested in being a co-owner of the plant, but someday it might well be interested in becoming a customer. North Crawford is currently being served by a 30-year-old septic system.
Gays Mills Village Trustee Lee Ruegg refocused the discussion on how the villages should go about finding the right engineering firm to proceed with a study and plan.
Fellow Gays Mills Trustee Kim Pettit furthered Ruegg’s point by asking how the group would choose a new firm to replace Davy.
Heisz said the villages and their trustees should take it upon themselves to make contacts with other engineering companies. The village president said he had not wanted to do anything until it was decided whether it would be done with Davy or without Davy.
Murray noted his displeasure with the Davy’s plan as presented was that it included every bell and whistle in it.
“I don’t like the way they went about it,” Murray said of the Davy effort.
Heisz explained that often the engineers will include lots of extras and it’s up to the village to remove some of them.
Pettit seemed to speak for many of the trustees from both village in expressing her displeasure with Davy Engineering.
“If you can’t be honest and upfront, I don’t want to do business with you,” Pettit said.
Heisz emphasized that the meeting wasn’t held to make a decision on having joint plant. He explained that he felt each village would have to individually decide what was feasible and what wasn’t. Understanding a plan for a joint sewer plant effort and the financing behind it would be crucial for each village to reach that informed decision.
Murray said that each board should have members on a joint committee to study the possibilities.
While the meeting was not aimed at making a decision, in a way the group did reach a consensus on having more meetings to study the situation. It was agreed that both villages would have at least three village board members on the committee and that meetings would alternate between the two villages. The clerk from each village would be responsible for providing the minutes from the meeting held there.
Nicholson, Heisz and Chapman each reviewed the situation of their current villages’ sewer system and the needs for upgrades to lift stations and more.
Nicholson noted both villages were on the same page about engineering.
Heisz pointed out the Village of Gays Mills had done a lot of work with Davy and they had been great to work with in the past–but “this one here” was a little bit different.
Chapman also noted that Soldiers Grove had a longstanding relationship with the firm.
Heisz noted Davy built the plant in Gays Mills and Chapman said he thought the firm might have built the Soldiers Grove sewer plant.
“Maybe it’s just time for change,” Ruegg said of the engineering firm situation.
Nicholson noted that Readstown had switched to Delta 3 Engineering.
Heisz said maybe it was time for another opinion, but noted that would cost the villages money to get another plan.
“Spending $30,000 may be better than making a million-dollar mistake,” Nicholson said.
While representatives of both villages were cautious about overcommitting at this point and maintained that the final judgement would come down to what was in the best interest of their particular village, everyone seemed cautiously optimistic about exploring the path to co-operating in a joint sewer plant project.Ultimately, this meeting might be described as an amiable ending to a first date–stay tuned.