The city of Ham Lake is hosting two public meetings within the next couple of weeks to discuss the findings of a septic study in the Hiawatha Beach and Comfort Resort neighbors on the south side of Coon Lake and to begin discussing some feasible solutions.
Both meetings start at 6 p.m. and will be at Ham Lake City Hall in the council chambers. The first meeting Wednesday, April 11 will feature Ellingson Companies, which conducted a comprehensive assessment report (CAR) study. The second meeting Tuesday, April 17 will feature Mike Jungbauer, who is a state senator from East Bethel, but will be speaking as the principal and chief executive officer of Infinite Hydrologic Solutions to provide some alternative options.
There are 154 properties in these two neighborhoods, which includes 11 vacant lots, according to the CAR study. A big issue in this area is the lot sizes are so small that some septic or well systems cannot be installed according to current state regulations on setbacks.
The CAR study determined that of the 143 occupied lots, only 24 lots have compliant systems and 119 have non-compliant systems. Of the 119 non-compliant lots, 63 lots have enough space to meet current setback requirements whenever new systems are installed. The other 56 lots are so small that there is no space for a new septic treatment system or there would be less than 12 inches of vertical separation between the bottom of the rock bed and the saturated soil. In these cases, Ellingson Companies suggested a holding tank, which would require a lot of pumping.
The Ham Lake City Council has heard a number of options to solve the problem, but would like to hear what the public thinks after learning about the different options.
Mayor Mike Van Kirk said he does not want residents to think the council has an agenda. He said they will present the different options and see what residents think.
“We’ll do everything we can to help every single person out there be able to come into compliance with their septic systems,” Van Kirk said.
During a joint March 26 meeting between the council and the Ham Lake Planning Commission, Van Kirk acknowledged that a hurdle to get over will be figuring out a fair funding solution when some people have compliant systems and some have non-compliant systems. A system could be non-compliant because state codes are not being met with regards to separation between the bottom of the rock bed and the saturated soils, because of separation between the septic system and well not being met, or because the system itself is failing.
Van Kirk made it clear that Ham Lake residents who do not live in this neighborhood should not have to pay for the improvements. Van Kirk and Councilmember Gary Kirkeide also said they were not interested in working with the cities of Columbus or East Bethel at this time.
“We take care of our own house,” Van Kirk said.
The city of Ham Lake should focus on finding a solution for Ham Lake residents, he said. “Not that I want to be an isolationist, but to work with other communities might take a lot longer,” Van Kirk said.
A variety of options
One option that Ham Lake elected officials have consistently taken off the table for many years is working with the Metropolitan Council on developing a municipal sewer and water system.
The Ellingson Companies CAR study looked at four different alternatives and suggested that individual treatment systems seem to be the best long-term value. However, this would require 56 property owners to put in a holding tank at some point.
According to Ellingson, if a residence of two or three people uses approximately 4,000 gallons of water per month and has a 2,000-gallon holding tank, the tank would have to be pumped every two weeks. Ellingson estimated the pumping cost would be $250. This would mean an annual cost of $6,500.
Ellingson said that 21 of the 56 small property owners could be in Type IV or Type V systems that would have a large initial cost of $10,000 to $14,000, but may only have an annual pumping cost of $560.
Ham Lake City Engineer Tom Collins said the CAR study did not address well locations, which obviously has huge implications on this whole discussion.
Jungbauer looked deeper into this and found out that shared wells between some properties could enable these 56 property owners to install new septic systems whenever they need them and avoid the costly holding tanks.
Some of these 56 properties would still have a problem of having a thin layer between the bottom of their septic system rock bed and saturated soils or the water table, he said.
Jungbauer said there are advanced septic systems available on the market classified as Type IV, Level A that could solve this issue.
Jungbauer told a March 26 joint city council and planning commission meeting that a standard septic system needs three feet of vertical separation between the bottom of the septic system rock bed and the top of the seasonally saturated soil zone or the water table. These Type IV, Level A systems only need 12 to 18 inches of separation.
He is seeking information from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency on what separation is needed for certain systems, so that residents can see this during the April 17 meeting, Jungbauer said.
He suggested that Ham Lake look into creating an overlay district that could possibly bring those with setback issues into compliance.
Collins said he needs more information from Jungbauer about how creating an overlay district would bring nonconforming properties into compliance.
Eric Hagen is at [email protected]