2011-08-20 / Top News

Anaerobic Digester Plan Now Off the Table for Island

By Karen Gould

An anaerobic digester will not be built on Mackinac Island. The project was taken off the table by Tom Lewand, chairman of the Board of Public Works, who for the last year has championed the idea that would have converted horse manure and sewage plant sludge into methane gas. The gas then would be used to generate electricity, which would have helped to offset steep rate increases, he said.

Mr. Lewand had worked with resident Dennis Thomas and both Cloverland Electric Cooperative of Dafter and DTE Energy of Detroit on the digester project.

City officials were notified of the change of plans in an August 2 memo from Mr. Lewand, who is out of the country, and council discussed the matter at its meeting Wednesday, August 10.

“In the review process and the evaluation, we turned it inside out and came to the conclusion that it would be nice, but it wasn’t going to be a substantial benefit, and that’s what it had to do in order to stay on the table,” Department of Public Works Director Bruce Zimmerman told the Town Crier Thursday, August 11.

Plans for work on the sewer plant, a project that will cost up to $7.5 million, will continue to move forward, he said.

Residents can expect a “substantial” sewer rate increase, surmised council, which is needed to pay for the bonds that will fund the project. Details will remain sketchy until the public works board reveals the information next week.

“Borrowing the full amount would require a 45% sewer rate increase, but would give the city a grant of an additional $2.5 million,” said Mr. Lewand.

Mr. Lewand will present a step plan to council that will include improvements that will begin at $5 million and move up to $7.5 million, said Mr. Zimmerman. Each step will outline the rate increase needed to support the work, he said.

In July 2010, Mr. Lewand addressed council to discuss a proposed 7% annual rate increase that would span five years, and compounded, would total 40.3%.

Details including what work will be done and what increases residents will pay on the renovation work of the sewer plant will be ironed out in a joint meeting between the city council and the public works board. Set for Wednesday, August 24, the meeting date is likely to change, says the city, but when set, it will be open to the public.

The DPW has been working on the renovation project details for about three years. Consideration of the digester slowed the progress of the plans, said Mr. Zimmerman. The sewer plant work will be funded by a loan from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act through U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, but the federal opportunity will expire this year. The agency requires the work be completed by 2015. The DPW is working with Miller Canfield on the bonds, said Mr. Zimmerman, and the interest rate will be no more than 3.38%.

The 40-year-old sewer plant needs an absolute minimum of $5 million in improvements, said Mr. Zimmerman.

“There is a rate increase that’s going to be necessary and we’ve said that several times, that’s not news,” he said. “We are preparing numbers, but you don’t actually know the exact amount until the bids come in and the project is solidified, but you make your best guesses. That’s the way it always happens.”

The department is preparing several options that will be considered based on work to be done and engineering estimates, and how each option would impact sewer rates, he said. The board will review the options and make a recommendation to the city. Council will decide the plan that will be used and the rate increase that will be set for the next five years. The first rate increase is expected to begin in 2012.

“It’s a hard pill to swallow. It’s not frivolous. It’s necessary,” he said. “There is a minimum of $5 million that the plant needs.”

For $5 million, the plant’s 1971 parts would be replaced, said Mr. Zimmerman.

“It’s not going to build any new tanks,” he said. “It’s not going to increase the plant’s capacity. It’s going to extend the plant’s life. It’s very Spartan improvements. The whole intent is to increase the plant’s reliability and life.”

Also under consideration is an increase in costs for solid waste disposal, which collects, composts, and recycles rubbish. The Board of Public Works is expected to present to council a 25% increase for bags, tabs, debris, and other fees.

Return to top

Click here for digital edition
2011-08-20 digital edition