High court to hear Thumb area septic tank case

By Ed White
Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) — The Michigan Supreme Court says it will decide if local governments can be ordered to install a sewer system when private septic systems fail and spoil a lake, a case that centers on Lake Huron and a five-mile stretch in the Thumb region.

State regulators want Worth Township to install a sewer system, but an appeals court last year said the township isn’t responsible for the problems of private property owners.

Some septic systems are failing in an area between M-25 and Lake Huron in Sanilac County, 80 miles northeast of Detroit.

Waste is being discharged into the lake and its tributaries, and the lots are too small to build new systems.

In a brief order issued last week, the Supreme Court narrowed the issue: Does state law allow regulators and the courts to demand that a township install a sewer system when a lake is contaminated?

Township attorney Michael Woodworth said he’s not surprised that the justices agreed to take the state’s appeal.

“The case is one of statewide significance,” he said. “There have been (local governments) that did not challenge the authority of the Department of Environmental Quality. What surprised the DEQ in this case is the township stepped back and said, ‘Wait a minute.’”

In 2008, Worth Township was in favor a new sewer system but backed out because of cost.

Larry Merrill, director of the Michigan Townships Association, said ordering a small township to install a sewer system would be a great burden. He noted that counties typically are responsible for approving and inspecting septic systems.

“Counties and the state have to be at the table to find a solution,” Merrill said.

Appeals court Judge Peter O’Connell was a dissenter in the 2-1 decision that is being appealed to the Supreme Court.

“It always will be the local unit of government’s responsibility to provide a proper and effective plan for sewage disposal within its boundaries,” he said last year.


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