Sunday, March 2, 2008

Ham Lake Chamber of Commerce Hosts Forum on City Sewer and Water

Last Monday, the Ham Lake Chamber of Commerce hosted a discussion on the proposed Ham Lake development. The discussion was lead by Ham Lake’s Mayor Paul Meunier along with East Bethel’s Mayor, Greg Hunter. Several commercial Realtors and developers were invited and on hand for the discussion. Though not widely publicized, several dozen members of the public were in attendance at the informal discussion as well.

The two hour Q&A event on February 25 was held in the Ham Lake Senior Center just downstairs from City Hall. Mayor Meunier gave a brief introduction to East Bethel’s Mayor Hunter and then proceeded with an overview of the five proposed plans from the task force. View the Five Visions of Ham Lake Development HERE.

During the overview, Mayor Hunter did interrupt the discussion to clarify that East Bethel does not yet have a wastewater treatment system or pipe to connect to and at this time just has designated areas along Highway 65 that would be for proposed development. According to Mayor Hunter this area includes two major intersections at County Rd 22 and 65 and another intersection to the north. It would extend approximately three quarters of a mile in either direction from Highway 65. The City of East Bethel has been working on this development project for four years and is continuing on the research and development stage of the project. The Met Council has committed $30 million dollars to the development of a wastewater treatment facility but as of yet, no developers have stepped forward to pay for the infrastructure to connect. Until that happens there is no plant for Ham Lake to connect to.

This prompted questions and soon hands started popping up in the crowd, mainly belonging to members of the public. The questions were specific. One resident questioned why the amount of connection changed from $37,000 down to $22,000-$25,000 on the Ham Lake proposal, Mayor Meunier answered that the numbers had not changed. “These are the exact numbers presented at the Town Hall meeting,” was the Mayor’s response.

Mayor Meunier is correct that the numbers are the same as presented at the meeting. But earlier meetings and in an online Powerpoint Presentation documentation dated December 11, 2007, the price range was listed as $32,500-$37,500 per REC Residential Equivalent Connection (One REC per Acre) for this option. View documentation HERE. When I personally reviewed all of the documentation of what I had posted previously, I notice changing numbers and a lot of fuzzy math.

No matter what the number, with foreclosures up considerably in Anoka County, is it fair to add an additional concern to any residents of Ham Lake…Even if it only encompasses 7% of the community?
Read StarTribune’s Article "Housing Crisis Hits Hardest in Anoka County" HERE. Many people are struggling to make current house payments, is it realistic to think that ANY homeowner can absorb even a $20,000 assessment?
When asked about what East Bethel residents would be required to pay, Mayor Greg Hunter said that it was very difficult to put a price tag on something that may or may not happen. He further recommended to Mayor Meunier that Ham Lake use caution when putting price tags on something so far in the future. He reiterated that there is no pipe yet and no developers.
Link to Update on East Bethel’s Plan.

When asked specifically about Coon Lake as it is several miles out from the 65 corridor, East Bethel’s Mayor Hunter did admit that there are some issues with failing septic systems and small lots that could possibly be addressed in the Hiawatha Beach neighborhood. Though no one pointed it out at the meeting, this area is not within the designated ¾ mile city water and sewer area of East Bethel but several miles away. He additionally made a point of saying that the water quality of Coon Lake continues to be monitored and it is as good as it has ever been.

Ham Lake Mayor Meunier did make a statement that he did not want to see the rural aspect of Ham Lake changed. He knows that many residents live in five acre developments as he does himself and he has no intention of having city water and sewer brought to every street in Ham Lake. The city sewer and water area encompasses only 7% of the community. It is obvious that neither he, nor his neighbors, are in the proposed Coon Lake city sewer and water district. But the unvoiced question remains as within that 7% area there are several 2, 3 and 5 acre parcels as well larger and smaller lot sizes.
Why is it ok to force ANY Ham Lake resident to connect to city water and sewer?

Questions were asked of both mayors regarding whether residents will be forced to connect. The mayors were in agreement on this that if the pipe came down the street, it is not the intention of the CURRENT city councils to force residents of either community to connect. But they went on to further say this could be as many as 10-20 years out and that they cannot control what the Met Council or FUTURE city councils might require.

At this point, a developer stood and offered that it was his belief that whenever utilities are offered to a community it is best to connect no matter what the cost. A resident questioned this logic considering the plight of the neighboring community of Ramsey facing bankruptcy. The developer called the Ramsey situation an “anomaly” but few in the audience were convinced as several other town center developments in Burnsville, Lake Elmo and Apple Valley are also struggling and restructuring.

Another resident who has some experience in the city utilities spoke his distrust of the statements that connection will be an option or choice to the homeowner. He remembered a few years back when people in Blaine were forced to connect and the assessments were so high several homeowners were forced to sell. He went on to further tell of signs along the roads in house after house of people who could not afford to pay.

Toward the end of the meeting, Mayor Paul Meunier did state that 84% of the Task Force was in favor of moving ahead with Option 2, the Town Center with a Coon Lake Water and Sewer District. He pointed out that every Ham Lake resident was given the option of participating in the task force. This is true. But had the task force been presented as “Ham Lake is considering City Sewer and Water” rather than being organized to look into a trail system, I am certain that more than 34 residents would have signed up.

It is interesting to note that of the 34 listed on the Task Force, I could only verify 22 as Ham Lake residents in the Anoka County tax records. So, that 84% of the task force is roughly 28 people. When there are over 12,000 citizens in the Ham Lake area, this means that less than 0.2% of Ham Lake residents agree that this is the best option.

With something as big as city water and sewer being considered which will in some way affect all Ham Lake residents,
doesn’t it make sense to poll all Ham Lakers?

Additional Articles on the City Water and Sewer in Ham Lake:


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