More questions than answers at Lake Byron meeting

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LAKE BYRON — More than 125 people attended Wednesday night’s meeting of the Lake Byron Sanitary Sewer District, and while there were numerous questions regarding the proposed sewer project around the lake, the answers to those questions were limited.
Ted Dickey, a program coordinator for the Northeast Council of Governments, fielded questions about the funding of the proposed sewer line, while Terry Aaker, a project manager at SPN & Associates, answered queries regarding the engineering aspect of the project.
What  has been proposed is a sewer line that would go around the lake from the Byron Bible Camp on the southeast corner, around to where North Shore Road turns to the east away from the water.
Aaker noted that the proposed line would include a grinder at each property, to pulverize waste, which would then make its way to a lagoon/holding pond some distance away. Aaker said that at this time, neither a site for the lagoon, or its surface area had been determined.
The Lake Byron Sanitary Sewer District was formed by a vote of property owners in April of 2015 and was recognized by the Beadle County Commission a short time after.
The District recently was notified that it had been approved for a $2 million grant and a low interest $3.475 million loan from the S.D. Board of Water and Natural Resources to be used for the project. An additional $400,000 loan application through the James River Water Development District has been submitted as well, Dickey said. The rate on both loans is 2.5 percent.
He noted that a flat rate per property owner of $98.25 would generate sufficient revenue to service the debt on the loans, and provide funding for the operation and maintenance on the system.
Several property owners in the audience questioned the cost per user, and from where the total of 188 users was derived.
“The flat rate was a board decision,” Dickey said. Gayle Kludt, the chair of the Board of Trustees for the District, said that the list of property owners was garnered from the Beadle County Equalization office.
“Well, I have a small lot,” a woman said. “I don’t have water on the lot, so I don’t see how something like this is fair. How is it fair to those who use their property five months versus those of you who live here year round?”
Dickey replied that it was the board’s position that the line will always be there and be operational, whether it is used or not.
He also said that if the sewer line and other items are installed, property owners would be obligated to pay their portion. He said that the board opted for a flat rate rather than a metered usage to have a better handle on finances.
Kludt said the board had explored adding two more board members and had voted to seek legal advice on how to go about doing so in the proper way. “We have talked to an attorney for some basic advice, but have not formally retained one,” Kludt said.
Many in the audience questioned the propriety of the election that formed the district more than three years ago, according to R. Shawn Tornow, an attorney from Sioux Falls who said he has been retained by the recently organized Lake Byron Concerned Citizens, Inc.
Tornow said that of 53 votes, 43 of them were in favor of forming the district had been cast at the election, after there was some confusion over who was eligible to vote in the election. An election for a board of trustees took place immediately after the district vote.
Tornow said his clients have “Serious and significant concerns about the sewer district from the start.” He noted that as a governmental subdivision the lack of information available concerning the district was  “staggering.” He urged the board to seek legal advice as it moved forward.
“I am not picking on you personally,” he said to the board, “but so far I haven’t seen anything that was done right with this. Until the proper steps are taken - ordinances, resolutions and proper procedures - you are just whistling in the wind. I think that people are justifiably confused. My clients want to be reasonable in this, but are willing to use the courts, if needed, to get answers.”
One audience member noted S.D. Codified Law 34A-5-16,  specifies initial trustees are elected for terms of three years, two years and one year, with three-year terms thereafter. “I don’t think we’ve had an election here since the original vote,” he said. “I would question if any actions since the trustees were first elected has been legal.”
Additional questions on a variety of issues prompted Kludt to simply say at one point that the board, “is just going to play the lawyer card and not make any decisions until we have a legal opinion.”
As the meeting continued, fewer questions were raised and more discussion took place between property owners in the audience.
While the majority of those in attendance appeared to oppose moving forward with the $5.5 million project - one person stated that it seemed that the non-users were going to be paying for the full-time residents - there were others who were in favor of moving forward with the sewer.
“This is an example of going above and beyond for our kids and grandkids,” one person said. “This is something that we need to do. Do I want this? Yes, I do, and we just spent money on our septic system. Do I want the extra $100 per month? No, but I am proud of the lake, and it gets better and better every year, and this is the next step.”
As the tone of the meeting turned more adversarial, Kludt took the microphone and stated, “If any of you think that we are trying to do something underhanded, you are absolutely wrong. Nothing that anyone on this board or the one before it has done has been done in an underhanded way. We were told that this meeting time and place didn’t need to be published, and you all knew when the meeting was taking place. We don’t publish, but the meetings are posted.
“I’m trying to remain neighborly about this whole thing.”
Aaker and Dickey allowed that there were no easements secured for the line and a voice from the crowd said that they may have a difficult time getting them, which drew a chuckle.
In response to a comment and question from the audience, it was noted that a water study had been done about five years earlier that showed most of the pollution was caused by ag runoff. It was stated that there was nothing that guaranteed adding the sewer line would improve the quality of the water in the lake.
“I think this should go back to a vote,” one attendee said before the meeting adjourned.
Kludt declined to answer any other questions before departing.

CURT NETTINGA/PLAINSMAN
A large contingent of Lake Byron residents attended Wednesday night’s meeting of the Lake Byron Sanitary Sewer District, at the Byron Bible Camp.

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