2012-12-19 / News

Court: Worth Township must pay for sewers

Features editor

LANSING — The Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled against Worth Township in the sewer lawsuit.

On Dec. 11, the court ruled that requiring the township to pay for a method to prevent raw sewage from polluting Lake Huron does not violate Michigan's Headlee Amendment.

"Although it may financially burden the (township), it does not shift the financial burden from the state to a local unit (because it's not the state's responsibility)," the court opinion stated.

"Additionally, we affirm the trial court's order establishing a timeframe for the (township's) compliance and imposing a fine and awarding attorney fees because such an order is within the trial court's jurisdiction," the judges stated.

Township Supervisor Phillip Essenmacher did not return phone calls asking for a comment on the court ruling.

The appeals court also noted that "although the trial court specifically stated that it was not requiring Worth Township to construct a sewerage system in this case, it appears that the parties agree that the most practical and comprehensive method to restrain discharge is for a sewerage system to be constructed".

In August, Worth officials brought in experts who explained two alternatives to a $26 million sewer system. At that time, Essenmacher stated the state Department of Environmental Quality was willing to work with the township regarding the possibility of grants.

In May, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled Worth Township was responsible for taking care of the raw sewage discharged into area waters. However, the high court did not address the other two other issues in the township's defense, and remanded them back to the state appeals court.

The township had claimed being ordered to pay for correcting the sewage problem violated the Headlee Amendment. In addition, officials claimed the law does not authorize the trial court - Sanilac County Circuit Courtto impose a schedule for implementing corrective action, a fine, and an attorney fee award.

The sewage contamination has been an issue in the area for years. The DEQ conducted water quality surveys in 2003, 2006, 2008 that demonstrated surface waters were contaminated with fecal coliform and E. coli bacteria. The surveys indicated the condition was becoming progressively worse.

In 2004 the township and DEQ entered into a compliance agreement wherein the township agreed to build a municipal sewer system by June 2008. When the township failed to do that, citing a lack of funding, the DEQ filed the lawsuit.

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