Traverse City Record-Eagle


April 24, 2014

Editorial: Septic tank owners not ready to forget

You’ve heard it dozens of times: “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

What gives adages like this one long life is that they’re essentially true. This one means that if someone makes promises he doesn’t keep, you’re supposed to file that away in the memory banks and remember it the next time around.

Someone apparently forgot to tell Grand Traverse County’s Board of Public Works that county residents who own homes with septic systems are still paying for a project designed and built by the local engineering firm Gourdie-Fraser Inc. — the same company the board just hired as the county’s engineer of record for the next three years.

Those homeowners haven’t forgotten, and you can be sure they wonder why the county has.

The Board of Public Works hired Gourdie-Fraser to design and build a $7.8 million septage treatment plant that opened in May 2005. The plant was to be the sane alternative to the long-standing but environmentally bankrupt practice of spreading septic waste on local farm fields.

But problems arose almost immediately; just 30 days after the plant opened, a wall partially collapsed, spilling some 50,000 gallons of waste onto an adjoining property. An investigation found multiple problems: pieces of structural steel were missing from three of the facility’s four main buildings; Gourdie-Fraser hadn’t used the proper kind of cement for holding tanks; there were design deficiencies and shoddy workmanship.

The failings resulted in more than $2 million in repairs and hundreds of thousands in operating shortfalls.

The plant took in about half the septage volume Gourdie-Fraser had predicted and cost almost twice as much to operate as originally projected. That created an instant structural deficit that the county is still struggling with.

Marvin Radtke, a Green Lake Township trustee and Paradise Township’s zoning and planning administrator, who sits on the public works board, cast one of the two votes against hiring Gourdie-Fraser again.

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