Opponents will continue to fight Northport sewer

NORTHPORT – Opponents of Northport's $13 million sewer system will file an appeal of a 13th Circuit Court decision that failed to block its financing and construction, a source close to the group fighting the project said.

In a hearing in Leland on June 20, Judge Thomas Power ruled against the Northport residents, after listening to attorneys representing the opponents and the village, and then deliberating for about an hour.

The verdict came just one day before the bonds financing the project were to be sold.

By the end of the week, the financing was lined up and village officials held their pre-construction meeting.

Charles Carman, one of the group's organizers, said he had no comment on the residents' future course, but promised one soon.

According to court documents, the residents' 58 appeals also remain active at the Michigan tax Tribunal. They pose little direct risk to the project as a whole, but they could undermine the financial resources to fund it.

An appeal of the project's groundwater permit from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is still underway as well.

The tax tribunal will decide whether the village's special sewer assessments, officially set at $10,100, are fair to the 58 petitioners. The residents contend that the actual costs will be much higher.

A continuation of the tax tribunal appeal would suggest that the residents have, in fact, placed some hope in a decision by that body, even though they argued in circuit court on June 20 that a favorable tribunal ruling would be meaningless if the project went ahead.

Once it is up and running, the residents have said, they would still have to bail out the system with their own tax contributions even if they get a break on the actual assessment.

That's because the village would have to turn to its general fund if money from the assessments runs short, as it would if the project's opponents were let off the hook on those fees.

In the cases now before the tax tribunal, residents also argue that they should not be forced to scrap their fully operation septic systems.

"I and many other taxpayers have functioning, permitted systems, yet the municipalities are attempting to impose such costs without having attempted to determine the functioning status of any existing private waste water treatment system," Carman said in his tribunal appeal.

But in a circuit court filing, William Davison, attorney for the two defendants, the Village of Northport and Leelanau Township, said communities have the right to establish sewer systems as a preventive measure under Michigan law.

The residents' circuit court suit also said the local governments' requirement to have the residents pay "for the destruction of their functioning septic systems" amounts to an improper seizure of their properties without fair payment. It also argued that the sewer system should not proceed until the communities started the process of condemning the property under Michigan law.

"The cost of the subject assessment, the taxes and other costs to be mandated along with it is grossly disproportionate to any benefit that could be received by my property," Carman said in his tribunal filing. BN

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