Majority of sewer board members resign

Three of the five members of the Brown County Regional Sewer District Board resigned Tuesday night amid allegations that the Brown County Health Board, health department and past sewer board members have been derailing the Bean Blossom sewer project and disparaging the current sewer board along the way.

President Evan Werling, Secretary Nina Leggett and Treasurer Terri Schultz all submitted their resignations after Werling gave a nearly hourlong talk on “what the truth is about what’s been going on.”

His presentation touched on a lack of documentation about the need for the sewer project, which has been in the works for more than 14 years; problems in the sewer project engineering report which a previous sewer board commissioned with county money; lack of health department cooperation in trying to obtain a “boots on the ground” survey of septic system failures in the Bean Blossom area to show sewer need; and name-calling which Leggett said she received at a health board meeting last fall.

Werling also brought up septic system permitting problems documented in a 2015 state audit of the local health department, which surfaced in a public meeting earlier this spring. The local health department is overseen by a local health officer who has a medical license; and all are overseen by a local health board. The sewer board has no direct involvement in the operation of the health department.

Werling, a former certified public accountant, also told the audience of about 20 people how he had found previous management and financial problems in Brown County long before the county council appointed him to the sewer board. He brought up a county sports facility which a previous board of county commissioners proposed in 2013, and the Stellar Communities application which a group of town and county leaders proposed in 2014. Neither came to fruition.

The common link among many of his complaints is John Kennard, a former county commissioner, former sewer board member and current health department employee. Werling also called out Kennard’s boss, Brown County Health Officer Dr. Norman Oestrike. Both were in the back row of the meeting; neither said anything. Health board President Jim Zimmerly, a nonvoting advisory member of the sewer board, also stayed silent.

Werling said the “big problem is when you hear your health department going around saying they’re all in favor of a sewer system – you hear it constantly – but then you look at their actions and everything they’re doing is tripping us up or slamming doors in our faces. … You reach a point in your life – and I’m in my 70s – when you have to say, ‘Is this really worth it?’”

In the hallway after the meeting, Oestrike called the allegations “malarkey” and consented to an interview later this week.

Schultz said she hopes the county commissioners and county council, which appoint the volunteer sewer board members, find “qualified, engineer-type people that can do this better.”

“I think we’ve made a lot of headway, and I just don’t think we’re ever going to get any cooperation from the health department and I just can’t do it anymore,” she said. “Perhaps they can work with someone else (new board members) — and that’s my hope, that this will be a good decision in the long run for everybody.”

The resignations leave two members on the sewer board: Mike Leggins and Debbie Larsh, who’ve been involved in trying to bring sewer service to the Bean Blossom area for more than a decade.

Leggins and Larsh said they didn’t know the resignations were coming. The board voted in February to build a sewer plant in the Bean Blossom area and had been talking about financing options. A couple of weeks ago they also began negotiating with Helmsburg about a possible sewer district partnership.

However, Leggins said it didn’t surprise him that now that the project seemed to be getting closer to actually happening, it would get derailed again; “there’s always a roadblock somewhere.”

Leggins and Larsh said they’re staying on the board and are committed to seeing the sewer project through.

“I’ve never quit anything in my life,” Leggins said.

Read more in the May 10 Brown County Democrat.

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Sara Clifford has been raising a family in Brown County since 2005 and leading the Brown County Democrat since late 2009. In addition to editor, she is the beat reporter for town government and writes columns, features and general news stories.