Stimulus Money Starting to Work, So You Don’t Get To

Minnesota is known for quite a few things; two of its more famous attributes are cold winters and a lot of water.  The winters (with the exception of northern Minnesota) are blown out of proportion.  I talk to people in New Jersey, New York or Pennsylvania and they often say, “Oh Minnesota, I bet you guys are cold today aren’t you” when in fact it is usually colder where they live.  But when it comes to water it is not an exaggeration.  Here you can spit in any direction and hit a lake.  In fact, there are about thirteen thousand lakes, but thirteen does not look good on a license plate so they go with the slogan, The Land of 10,000 Lakes.
What I find amusing is when people leave Minnesota for a southern climate like Arizona, Texas or New Mexico, only to come back because they miss the lakes and rivers—when you live here you seem to take them for granted.  And of course when you have an abundance of lakes you have people that want to live on or near those shimmering jewels. 
In the old days, people had cabins, and in most cases they were not what you would want to call luxury palaces—they were small, dank, dark, leaky and cold—but roughing it was part of the allure.  On Friday night, dad would load up the car with all the gear, gather up the family and head to the cabin for a weekend of fishing and hunting—of course Grandpa said in those days, the fishing was so good you had to hide behind a tree to bait your hook. 
But eventually things started changing; instead of a location you made a few dozen trips to over the summer, people began building actual houses and living in them year round.  Of course today because of bad planning and lack of foresight, those lake communities are facing wastewater issues and the big-pipe representatives are lined-up to solve the problem. 
Now in most of these areas the homeowners are clueless.  When they hear the pitch about how great the pipe will make their lives and protect their lake from the ravages of septic pollution many say, “Okay.”  And why are they so ready to sign on the dotted line—because no one is telling them the whole story, which means, neither the negatives of the pipe nor the positives of onsites. 
And fighting these projects is difficult because those people that oppose it are usually a very small percentage [approximately 10%] of the community.  And they are not very well organized with no clear plan because fighting city hall for a public utility project is a totally new concept.  
What this means is when I receive a call, I have to convince this small group to start reaching out to their neighbors and try to get that 10% up to 40% or 50%.  Then we need to schedule community meetings to get that number up to at least 70%.  From there we need to work with the local contractors to get estimates on what type of onsite systems can be used as well as the costs and then present these solutions to the local unit of government as a viable alternative to the pipe and one that the majority of the people prefer.  To say that this is a very time consuming and difficult process would be an understatement.    
But last year, a few people mentioned a nearby community that was in the process of fighting the pipe and suggested I call them to see if I could help.  I talked to a few participants in the group and, from what they told me, the county had built a treatment plant about 4 miles away and now were looking for customers.  Their plan was to run a main down the county road to another area and as long as they were passing by, lay a loop around this lake giving the 371 property owners the opportunity to hookup. 
What shocked me is the fact that these people already had it together.  Approximately 70% of the homeowners were already against the county plan and those that needed it were willing to upgrade their systems to current code.  With numbers like that right out of the gate, I figured they couldn’t lose and said the only thing I could offer would be to try and help them get that last 30% onboard with their program.  They thanked me but said they didn’t feel it would be necessary—and I agreed. 
Last weekend I got an email from someone involved in the community with a link to a story in the local paper: 
Diamond Lake sewer project gets go-ahead from County
ATWATER — A long-debated project to install a common sanitary sewer collection system around Diamond Lake was unanimously approved Friday night by the Kandiyohi County Commissioners.
I couldn’t believe it.  I mean this group was one of the most organized that I had ever seen; they had even applied for and received a grant to bring in an outside engineering firm to assess the lake’s lots for the best onsite solutions.  Even the outfit burying that mainline was surprised that it passed because there was such opposition to it from the homeowners—however, they still lost.  
I got on the horn and started calling to see what happened.  It seems a major selling point was that the county was granted a few million in stimulus dollars to run that mainline past Diamond Lake which would knock down the assessments from $20,000 to $16,000 per household.  Why with the pipe running a sale like that how could the county refuse? 
What this means is those local contractors that would have kept those 371 customers were now going to lose them forever, and let’s not forget those customers at the end of the line that will be lost.  As an afterthought, I asked what kind of support did their group get from the local contractors—their answer, “None.” 
Now if I were working that area, particularly with business as slow as it has been and my business future in jeopardy, I wouldn’t have just been sitting and waiting for the phone to ring; I would have spent a few weeks of my time going door-to-door and done visual assessments/bids to make sure every homeowner knew what the onsite options would be and maybe the numbers would have been 99% against rather than 70%.  That is what is called investing in the (your) future.  
There is a small chance they can still shut it down—if they are still willing—but this is a prime example of your competition using those stimulus dollars to put you out of business.      
Jim VonMeier performs educational programs directed at homeowners teaching them the health and environmental need for proper septic systems and how to find a certified septic professional to inspect/design/install/maintain their systems.  He has also represented homeowners in their fight against public sewer projects and speaks at contractor certification courses around the country on the subject of customer service. 


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