US Army's Proposed Water Utility - Clean Water proposal
Merrimac Sanitary District #1
No meetings are planned at this time while the Army seeks monetary approval.
On July 25, 2017, after nearly 8 years, the US Army officials from Washington DC announced they did not have the authority to build or even propose this project.
The US Army delivered a petition to form a Sanitary District on April 1, 2015.
*Some residents in the Town of Merrimac received certified letters that are not in the initial proposed district. Owners who live east of the proposed district, including Eagle Point Subdivision, Foster Shores, and Oak Road were included in the mailing because the initial system design created by the US Army includes options for well locations. These locations would require the district commission to revise the district boundaries. Separate public hearings to include these districts will be held at that time.
The Merrimac Town Board approved an order creating the Sanitary District on May 27, 2015. This procedural step does not guarantee a municipal water system will be constructed. Funding approval by the US Army for the next phase, which will open up the review of the system as well as start the negotiation process could take up to a year.
Mike Sitton, U.S. Army, 608-434-5374 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Tim McCumber, Town of Merrimac, 608-493-2588 or email@example.com
Frequently Asked Questions:
What is the Army's proposal for a municipal water system?
The United States Army presented an Alternative Feasibility study (Alt-FS). One part of the Alt-FS is the option to build a $20 million clean drinking water solution for areas that could be potentially affected by contaminants in the drinking water supply in the Town of Merrimac and portions of the Town of Prairie du Sac and Town of Sumpter.
The proposal includes the creation of a sanitation district. Because a majority of the system will be located in the Township, the Town of Merrimac will be a majority partner in the proposed district. At that time, the major cost of construction and long-term expense, the Town rejected a similar proposal in 1997. The Army is proposing a trust fund to offset those liabilities and to deliver affordable drinking water to affected residents.
The Board will be working closely with the Army through this process to assure that if this project is followed through to completion, it will not only benefit those in the affected areas, it will be an asset to the entire community. This project cannot be completed without approval from the Merrimac Town Board. The Merrimac Town Board has the final vote as to whether or not construction begins.
Who will bear the cost?
The US Army has proposed to pay for 100% of the cost for construction, connection, and well abandonment where necessary, for homes that already exist. Those homeowners will have water supplied at a rate that is subsidized by the Army to guarantee the cost of water is not more than the average cost of private well ownership. The cost of recapitalization will be recovered when new homes are added to the system. Those homes will pay connection fees and standard water rates. Any resident who does not live in the district will not see any expense due to this project.
Has this been done before?
In 1981, the City of New Brighton, MN found chemical contamination in their municipal water utility. It was later learned, the source of contamination was from the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant. This system actually uses the treated water from the cleanup process, unlike the proposal put forward today. The Army provided the assets necessary to provide low water rates. Residents there pay $1.41 per thousand gallons with a minimum charge of $11.28 per quarter (8,000 gallons). Learn more about the New Brighton Water System.
What did the DNR approve in the Alternative Feasibility Study (Alt-FS)?
The US Army was seeing diminishing returns in the capture and filtering of groundwater - a process that involves pumping millions of gallons of groundwater filtering (the IRM/MIRM) and removing contaminants, and then releasing the treated water into the Wisconsin River. In 2011, only 18 lbs of contaminants were recovered. Additionally, several private wells that have been routinely tested have not tested positive for contamination. The ALT-FS proposed reducing the number of private wells that are tested, eliminating the IRM/MIRM, natural attenuation with continued on-site monitoring. Concerned about public perception, a municipal water system was also proposed to provide assurance the community would have a permanent source of clean drinking water. The DNR held the required public hearings and responded to written comments prior to the final approval of the Alt-FS. Here is the status of the Alt-FS proposals:
- IRM Shutdown - COMPLETE
- Private Well Monitoring Reduction - COMPLETE
- MIRM Shutdown - PENDING
- Municipal Water Utility - DISTRICT FORMED
Natural attenuation w/on-site monitoring - CONTINUES INDEFINITELY; currently required through 2032, but will likely continue if contaminants are still found.
Will a deed restriction be placed on my property?
The DNR will only place deed restrictions only on those properties that have recorded levels that exceed DNR standards at the time of closure. At this time there are 5 properties in the proposed area that would be eligible if there is an exceedance at plant closure. The closure will occur no earlier than 2034 due to a current operational contract). This is accurate whether a system is approved or not as that is the current law. At this time, there are no properties outside of the plant boundaries that exceed these standards. The only affected properties are located inside the plant boundaries. Those properties will ultimately be owned by the DNR.
What is the concern?
Here are three reports that support the analysis that levels of DNT found at Badger are not high enough to be a significant health risk:
They found Ethyl Ether - now what?
At the bottom of this page, you will find the DNR's response to the discovery of Ethyl Ether on and/or near the Badger plant. The bottom line is that the DNR and the Army have not been able to source this contaminant. Based on its sudden discovery and extraordinary depth, which are both highly unusual, the soil composition is not conducive to the long-term stability of this chemical and it would have most likely dissipated if introduced during the Badger operational era. The DNR and the Army are continuing to work to identify the issue, but based on groundwater flows, no residential properties will be affected.
Will the proposed water system will lead to unregulated growth?
The Town of Merrimac has adopted a very strict SmartGrowth development plan and Zoning Ordinances that restricts residential development to the areas between Highway 78 and Lake Wisconsin. In 2006, the town estimated there are less than 800 acres of land available in this area for new construction.
If the Army builds the proposed system, will they discontinue the IRM/MIRM treatment system to remove contaminants?
As a condition of the approval, the Army can only shut the IRM/MIRM system down when the DNR gives the final approval to do so and there are no increases in contaminant levels found.
If the Army builds the proposed system, will they continue testing private wells?
The Army plans to seek approval to discontinue testing private wells whether a water system is constructed or not. The Army will be required to test on-site monitoring wells until approval is granted to officially close the case at BAAP.
Will this plan improve fire protection?
Merrimac Fire already provides "Same Day Service", but the proposed system will offer fire hydrants. Insurance companies view this favorably and offer reduced rates on homeowner's insurance
Will this plan hurt the farmers?
It has been reported by third parties that local farmers will have to pay a higher rate for water than what they currently pay to operate their private wells. At this time this is an unknown, however, Army officials have publicly stated they want to deliver bulk water rates to high use farmers. Because a proposal has not been presented to the town at this time, a final determination on this has not been made. Merrimac has a strong agricultural community and it is very likely the town board will work to support every effort to provide water at a cost that will not exceed operating a private well.
Is the Army only doing this so they don't have to finish cleaning up at Badger?
No. The Army is already done with the cleanup of Badger. With the exception of monitoring and a few minor projects, the DNR and the EPA report that work at the Badger Army Ammunition Plant is done. There is no federal or state regulation that requires the Army to provide a drinking water alternative. The Army is required to continue monitoring as long as there are contaminants present and are also required to remediate in an area where a problem reoccurs.
In January 2014, the Town of Merrimac conducted a survey of all owners of real estate in the proposed Sanitary District. The survey was conducted to assure each property owner received only one opportunity to respond. An astounding 37% of those surveyed responded. When asked if they supported the Army filing a petition requesting the town to create a sanitary district that would allow the town to investigate the project's fiscal feasibility, the answer was a resounding 87.1% in favor.
The follow-up questions were asked to help determine what was considered feasible should the project move forward. These are targeted goals the Army has set for operating the system, but ultimately needs Public Service Commission (PSC) and town approval. Again, respondents made it very clear that the Army must make a commitment to subsidizing the system in such a manner that the Army pays for the system, subsidizes it to create water rates comparable to private well ownership, and is subsidized as to not create a future financial burden on the community. Click here for the full survey.
The survey was not intended to create a public hearing environment, but a number of written comments generated similar themes. The town board asked that these questions be posted here along with a response:
1. What is the cost to hook up to the water utility?
2. How much would the Army subsidize the operational costs and for how many years?
3. Will property owners be able to keep their private wells in addition to the public water?4. Would it be mandatory to hook up to the water system?
5. How is “the life of the system” defined?
6. Who qualifies as a farmer in the case of bulk-rate costs charged to farmers?
These first 6 questions are exactly why a petition is needed to move forward into the process. While the Army has committed verbally to several factors, ultimately, these items need to be negotiated not just between the Army and the Town, but the Public Service Commission (PSC). It would, however, be mandatory to connect to the system as the goal is to remove all human receptors within the target area.
7. Who chooses the commission? Who makes up the district? Are they educated? Are they professionally qualified? Are they paid?
The Town Board will determine the Commission and, in most communities, the commission is also the local governing entity. The State of Wisconsin requires that each municipal well is supervised by a Certified Well Operator.
8. What is the alternative if the town does not choose to establish a water utility?
This is the alternative. The Army is very close to fully implementing the Alternative Feasibility Study. This proposal as an optional part of that approval.
SCS-BT Squared Comments to RAB (Restoration Advisory Board)