Local News

State grant of $3.5 million could aid Holiday Hills sewer installation as some aging septic tanks pose environmental threat

If project proceeds, village’s homes may not need to connect right away but will eventually

When Mickey Brown was on the Holiday Hills Board of Trustees in the mid-2000s, she initially supported the idea of having a municipal sewer system installed.

But public opinion was not on her side.

Fearing the potential costs of transitioning away from their private septic systems, most of the resident responses to a poll put out by the village at the time showed too much resistance existed to keep exploring a sewer project, Brown said Monday. The notion was dropped.

Last week, she just finished installing a brand new septic system in her yard after her old one, which had served her Holiday Hills home for decades, failed. It cost about $18,000.

Now, a governmental sewer operator, called the Northern Moraine Wastewater Reclamation District, again has a chance to bring sewer service to Holiday Hills, which would provide a backstop for homeowners whose septic systems fail in the future by providing them a chance to hook to the pipes instead of repairing an already aged septic system or installing an entirely new one.

Several weeks ago, Northern Moraine officials were informed they had tentatively been approved for an Illinois Environmental Protection Agency grant of $3.5 million to add Holiday Hills to the district’s sewer network. The district currently serves homes in Lakemoor, Island Lake and Port Barrington.

But the estimated cost to extend the sewer system to the village is about $6.7 million, Northern Moraine officials said in an interview. Together with village officials, they still are shopping around for additional grants to help fund the project.

Lou French, the Holiday Hills village president who was reelected earlier this month with 66% of the ballots in a turnout of 195 voters, estimated more than half of the septic systems in the village are failing in a Monday interview.

The village also is prone to flooding from the Fox River, which can further hamper the use of the septic fields, French said. Even heavy rains adding to the groundwater can cause enough issues for septic fields in the village, he said.

“I got a newer field. My field was put in the late 1980s, I think. I live by myself now. When we get a heavy rain, I can’t flush my toilet until 10 minutes after the rain stops,” French said.

He is hopeful Northern Moraine can install the sewer network at costs that will not force Holiday Hills residents to leave their homes. Having the sewer network, French said, also will benefit the environment because less contamination from septic fields would flow into the river, which is used as drinking water downstream.

Northern Moraine officials said failing septic tanks in Holiday Hills have led to instances of feces floating in the water during flooding, and the installation of a sewer, they argue, will benefit more than just that village, but all water downstream water users, too.

“Failing and overloaded septic systems contribute significant amounts of fecal coliform bacteria to the Fox River, especially when they become submerged during wet weather conditions. Funding a solution to overcome this environmental challenge is a significant win for all of us in the region,” Northern Moraine President Kenneth Michaels said in a news release.

The district said the costs to connect to its system for the village residents will vary between properties.

There may be other perks of installing a sewer system, too.

“If anything, we’ve learned through history once sewers come to town, the land values go up and property values go up. There is always some benefit of sanitary sewers in any community,” Victor Filippini, an attorney for Northern Moraine, said in an interview.

But not everyone is on board with the initiative.

Joe Finze, a resident of Holiday Hills for more than 25 years, said he has never had an issue with his septic system and on Monday said he would be against moving forward with any sewer installation for now.

“It’s a really hard decision to make,” Finze said.

Janet Busonic, another decadeslong resident of Holiday said she thinks it is time for the village to get onto a sewer service. She also has not had any septic system issues in her 43 years of residency.

“But I keep knocking on wood,” she said.

Northern Moraine officials described septic system failures in the area as inevitable.

They think they can proceed with the project if a majority of the Holiday Hills Village Board votes to enforce an agreement that would require homeowners in the village to connect to the sewer once their septic system fails or when their homes are sold, whichever comes first.

Brown, who tore up her yard to install the new septic system this year and was formerly village president of Holiday Hills, said she was not against the village moving forward with such an agreement, if the project continues to gain traction. She was paying $175 every three months to have her septic system pumped before the replacement, which she said will stay useful longer than she will be alive.

She also said she did not want her situation – particularly the price tag – to be used as a “scare tactic” to convince those hesitating to support a sewer project to embrace the idea. She could have pursued different septic system options for her home, and other homeowners in the village may have less expensive options, she said.

“I’m not saying it’s a bad idea,” Brown said. “I have family in here. Sewer would benefit them.”

Sam Lounsberry

Sam Lounsberry

Sam Lounsberry covers local government, business, K-12 education and all other aspects of life in McHenry County, in particular in the communities of Woodstock, McHenry, Richmond, Spring Grove, Wonder Lake and Johnsburg.