The Village of Sister Bay began the process for a declaratory judgment on ownership of the Sister Bay Wastewater Treatment Plant against the Town of Liberty Grove. The village maintains that it is the sole owner of the plant while the town believes its capital investment provides for part ownership.
“The bottom line is that over the years the town has put very close to $2 million dollars into this plant and what the board is looking for is a little more control,” said Liberty Grove Town Administrator Bud Kalms. “We’d like to get our name on the deed because of the money we’ve put into it.”
But the village doesn’t think this capital investment means ownership when placed next to the original Intergovernmental Agreement between the two municipalities when Sister Bay constructed the plant back in 1988.
“The village needs and intends to construct, own and operate a wastewater treatment plant to serve the entire Village of Sister Bay, the Town of Liberty Grove and Liberty Grove Sanitary District No. 1,” said the agreement.
That agreement expired in 2008 and since then, the two municipalities have not been able to settle the ownership issue. During the next five years, the town and the village discussed a new agreement through a Negotiating Committee made up of representatives from both municipalities and Steve Jacobson from the wastewater treatment plant.
At that time, Liberty Grove suggested the creation of a commission that would own and operate the plant. Gary Rosenbeck from McMahon Associates said this option would likely increase rates for Sister Bay residents, so the village turned it down.
When a new agreement was made in 2013, it only addressed operation of the plant, not ownership. It did, however, provide the option of litigation if ownership could not be settled through a mediator that both municipalities agreed upon.
Sister Bay suggested a mediator but Liberty Grove turned it down. Liberty Grove then suggested a mediator that Sister Bay rejected. Instead, the town got a notice of claim from the village’s attorney, Randy Nesbitt of Pinkert Law Firm.
Meeting minutes from the negotiating committee state that legal opinions provide for ownership following a capital investment, of which the town had spent $1.7 million on the wastewater treatment plant at the time of those meetings. This will likely be the leg that the town stands upon should the process lead to circuit court.
“The village produced copious documentation supporting its position of ownership of the plant. The town has not produced any conclusive documentation, nor accepted any of numerous opportunities to present information as to why it believes that it ‘owns’ the plant,” said a press release from Sister Bay.
Kalms said the town did make an offer within the past two years to relinquish ownership but the village did not respond.
Sister Bay Village Administrator Zeke Jackson said that Liberty Grove has frequently been unable to make a quorum at their meetings over the past several years.
The Pulse has requested all documents pertaining to the case from the Village of Sister Bay.
The Town of Liberty Grove met with their attorney after Pulse press time on Thursday, Feb. 9.