- Associated Press - Monday, September 21, 2015

HOLLAND, Mich. (AP) - Laketown Township is commissioning a project that will put municipal water, fire protection and new roads in a gated community at the mouth of Macatawa Bay.

The problem is, the people of that community don’t want it, according to The Holland Sentinel ( https://bit.ly/1M91Cir )

At the end of August, Laketown Township’s board approved the $4.3 million water project for Macatawa Park, to the consternation of the community’s residents. The unhappy community has until the end of September to appeal the board’s decision in court.

“The question was put forward to the township board - ‘Would you be willing to pay this much for water?’” said Steven Grunst, who owns a cottage in the community. “(The answer is) no, any sane person would not cash out their son’s college fund or forgo buying their new car for municipal water.”

For the Laketown board members who support the project, it’s a question of safety vs. cost.

“The price is admittedly high,” the township’s supervisor Terry Hoffmeyer said. “But Macatawa Park is getting an awful lot there” with the project.

The water controversy began in 2011 with a fire safety presentation. Park and Laketown Townships’ fire chiefs warned Macatawa Park residents that their neighborhood would be in a bad spot should a major fire break out.

The neighborhood has a history of burning to the ground, Grunst said. Although the major fires happened nearly 100 years ago or more, it was agreed that Macatawa Park needs better fire protection.

Some of its residents then petitioned the township to begin looking into what it would take to bring city water to Macatawa Park. Currently, the area’s cottages get their water exclusively from wells.

Grunst, who is an engineer himself, said the cost was originally expected to be between $5,000 and $10,000 per parcel of land. The cost continued to rise until an engineering firm put together a thorough plan, making the cost out to be just shy of $25,000.

While the actual plan “was a wonderful engineering study,” in hindsight, “the documents were horrendous,” Grunst said, who was one of the project’s original petitioners.

With the $25,000 price, support in the community was still over 50 percent, measured by another petition, Grunst said. When the township actually bid out the project, contractors came back with a much higher than expected price tag.

Even after it reworked some of the plans, township officials could only knock off a fraction of the cost. Final price: $4.3 million - or just more than $47,000 per parcel.

After that number came out, public support for the project tanked. Another petition circulated, this one for rejecting the project. Grunst said 85 of 91 households signed it.

“And the six who did not respond were out of the country and couldn’t be reached” in time, Grunst said.

But even after looking at the petition and hearing the angry complaints, the Laketown Township board gave the project an official green light during a public hearing on Aug. 26, voting for it 3-1.

Township administrator Al Meshkin said it was determined that Macatawa Park needed access to municipal water, even with the high cost.

“Basically it comes down to a house safety and welfare project,” Hoffmeyer said. “People do need welfare. They do need fire protection. They do need roads to get up there.”

The project would install new concrete roads, connect all houses to Holland’s water system and place fire hydrants throughout the neighborhood.

“People aren’t objecting to the project but paying for the project,” Meshkin said.

Meshkin said fixing the Macatawa Park fire protection system is absolutely necessary. The beaten up and winding roads would dangerously hinder any fire team trying to get into the area.

The winding roads and rugged terrain are part of the reason for the project’s inflated price, Meshkin said. Also, construction projects, in general, cost more than usual, as the economy slowly recovers.

“Since the recession, the number of contractors available for work is quite diminished,” Meshkin said. “There’s too much work out there and not enough contractors to do it.”

Macatawa Park residents have until the end of the September to submit their case to the Michigan tax tribunal.

“From the comments that were made the evening that we had the public hearing, I’m going to guess there will be a number of them who will contest (the cost),” Hoffmeyer said.

According to Grunst, cottage-owners Don and Nancy McDaniel are spearheading that legal defense. They couldn’t be reached in time for this story.

Grunst didn’t express optimism about the case. But he did express disbelief. He supported the water project for several years, until, as he put it, he “changed colors” when the cost skyrocketed.

“I am an engineer by profession. I can assure you, in corporate America, if I had brought a budget number of x dollars and exceeded that by 90 percent, I would not have had much of a corporate career,” Grunst said. “I am astonished that an engineering firm could come up with $24,500 (per parcel) and miss it by 91 percent. That’s horrendous. That doesn’t happen if you are a solid engineering firm.”

But with the cost misfire, Grunst said, “What’s left is a real hornets’ nest, based on cost.”

___

Information from: The Holland Sentinel, https://www.thehollandsentinel.com

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide