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Lake Herman Sewer Doable for $6.4 Million; Manageable Monthly Costs Tricky

Last updated on 2013.04.24

Last fall, the Lake Herman Sanitary District, on which I continue to serve, approved spending about $20,000 to have Banner Associates from Brookings recalculate the cost and feasibility of building a central sewer system around Lake Herman. The last time Banner did this work for the district, in 1999, it figured the cost piping all of Lake Herman's wastewater to Madison for treatment would have been $2.0 million.

Banner's draft report (and I emphasize draft: there's no final proposal, no final data, and no official action from the district yet, and there won't be any action without plenty of public meetings and input) updates the cost for both a poop-pipe to Madison and for local holding pond systems at Lake Herman. The cost to build those systems (assume at least 10% margin of error on all figures):

  • Sewer system connected to Madison: $4.5 million.
  • Sewer system with one holding pond at Lake Herman: $6.4 million.
  • Sewer system with two holding ponds near Lake Herman: $7.0 million.

The cost estimate gets complicated when we add in ongoing costs. Hooking into Madison incurs higher monthly sewage rates, over which the Lake Herman Sanitary District would have no control. The district may be able to get grant money from the state to cover construction costs, but it can't use grant money to pay city sewer bills. If we get grant money to build, we end up with slightly lower annual costs (paying off the construction loan plus annual operations cost) from our own pond systems than we do paying Madison to process Lake Herman's wastewater.

So suppose Lake Herman avoided Madison entanglement and went with the one-pond system. In its draft report, Banner figures that the monthly cost of debt retirement, operations, and maintenance per household (assuming 169 households) would be around $300 a month. If we can obtain 50% grant funding from the state, Lake Hermanites would pay $150 a month for their LHSD sewer bill. That's $1800 per year for 20 years as we pay off the system.

Banner has sent me a spreadsheet with some updated figures. If we impose a $5000 hookup fee for every house, we bring the monthly bill per house to $132. If we also manage to boost the percentage of the system paid for by grants to 75% (and that likely requires shaking loose federal money), we can get the monthly bill down to $69.

For perspective, here in Spearfish, I pay $60 a month for sewer, water, and garbage service combined. The monthly bills we're talking about for Lake Herman would buy only sewer service.

Again, we have taken no action on this plan and will not until we have held a public meeting to present the final draft report to all interested residents.

In the mean time, I look forward to hearing from Lake Herman residents how much they'd be willing to pay for replacing their septic tanks with central sewer service... and how willing they are to ask Pierre and Washington to bear that cost for them.