2009-05-30 / Top News

Public Offers No Comment on Wastewater Plant Upgrades

By Karen Gould

No citizen comments were made at a public hearing Wednesday, May 27, on city plans to upgrade the wastewater treatment facility. The hearing, attended by about 20 citizens and city officials, was required before the Board of Public Works can apply for a low interest loan from the State Revolving Fund.

The city's loan application is due to the Department of Environmental Quality by July 1, and if approved, bids could be sought in April 2010 and awarded in May. Construction could begin in August and the first phase could be completed by September 2012.

The two-phase project is estimated to cost $10.3 million. Plans call for the first phase to begin next year and the second phase to begin in 15 to 18 years. The city has been seeking grants to reduce costs, although Board of Public Works Chairman Tom Lewand said he is no longer optimistic that the city will find grant funding.

Interest on a loan offered by the State Revolving Fund is about 2.5%, and compared to today's bond market rates of 5% or 6%, could save the city about $250,000.

No utility rate increase is planned for this year, said Mr. Lewand.

"They are in first class shape and we want to keep them that way," Mr. Lewand said of the Island's water treatment and wastewater facilities, "but we also are very sensitive to the budget concerns of the Island. We all pay the rates. We have a whole lot of people who live here year-around who don't want high rates and a whole lot of business people this year who are suffering more than some years, and they don't want to pay high rates."

Mayor Margaret Doud said the city has to be sensitive to the poor economic conditions.

"I think it is important . . . that the DPW and the city council work hand-in-hand to make sure that we get the right plan that is going to benefit the whole Island," she said.

The project background, water quality problems, recommended upgrades, environmental impact of upgrades, the construction schedule, project cost, and user impact fees were reviewed during the hearing by John "Jack" Rafter of Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr and Huber, the engineering firm hired to develop the project plan.

The wastewater plant, which was constructed in 1971, was expanded in 1984 and improvements were made in the 1990s.

From 2005 through 2008 there were 90 "small" violations reported by the plant, said Mr. Rafter, when it was in noncompliance with its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit. The violations occurred when the plant is converting from its low-flow winter operations to high-flow summer demands. In the winter, the plant treats about 100,000 gallons a day and it treats about 1 million gallons each day in the summer.

"From a water quality standpoint," said Mr. Rafter, "there are no water quality problems found directly related to the Mackinac Island wastewater treatment plant, which is good news."

The flow adjustment problems faced at the plant would be eliminated with the upgrade work, he said. Planned upgrades are primarily owing to the age of the plant and include replacing clarifiers and repairing the chlorine contact tank weir. Structural repairs would be made and the motor control centers replaced, as parts no longer are made for the 40- year-old systems.

A garage converted into a sludge handling building would be replaced with a new structure about the same dimensions of approximately 15 feet by 30 feet. The preliminary treatment building would receive an addition and obsolete equipment will be replaced. The physical changes would not require any new land, he said.

Environmental impact will be confined to construction activities, said Mr. Rafter. Work routes would be designated and engineers would work with contractors to minimize any soil erosion during construction, and work would primarily take place during the non-tourist season.

Estimated costs for phase one would be $$5,600,000, with $4,088,000 for construc- tion and $1,512,000 for engineering, legal work, and bonding costs. Phase two estimated costs would be $4,700,000, with $3,300,000 for construction and $1,400,000 for engineering expenses, legal fees, and bonding costs.

The city intends to minimize the potential user fee increase, he said, and would do so by combining grants with low interest loans or increasing the number of stages in the project. To qualify for the State Revolving Fund loan, the city was required to illustrate the project's impact on user rates. The intention of the Board of Public Works, however, said Mr. Rafter, is not to raise rates to the level suggested to the state.

If the city were approved for State Revolving Fund money for the $10.3 million project and the city sought all of the funding in one phase, the city would pay 2.5% interest on the money for 20 years. The annual payment would be $668,000 with the first payment due in 2012.

Using an illustration of a usage of 5,000 gallons at the current rate of $6.55 per gallon, the user rate would increase to $12.18 per 1,000 gallons. The ready-to-serve rate would increase from $15.75 to $29.30. The total monthly user charge now is $48.50 and that would increase to $90.21.

"We are very, very committed, and I really want to underscore very committed, that the water and sewer rate will not double, which is what this example just showed," said Mr. Lewand. "This is strictly a schoolroom exercise that shows to the fine people of the State of Michigan that if we did all this in one phase, this is what would happen. It will not happen this way."

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