2014-06-14 / News

Call Is Renewed for a Review of City Sewer Capacity Rationing

Discussions to Resume About City’s Process
By Stephanie Fortino

After months of inactivity, the Mackinac Island Planning Commission has asked that the city’s process to allocate sewer hookups be continued. Last year, a joint committee of planning commissioners, public works board, and city council members was tasked with reviewing it, but discussions stagnated.

The Planning Commission has previously discussed whether they should consider available sewer capacity when reviewing zoning applications. While the commission has no say in whether a project is granted sewer hookups (that’s a job for the Department of Public Works), commissioners have said being aware of the amount of sewer capacity available is important to future planning.

No meeting has been scheduled.

Sewage treatment capacity is just about used up, and the city council has decided it will not expand it further. So the department of public works rations new use, measured in Residential Equivalency Units (REUs). One REU is equal to the standard monthly water use of a single-family home. Out of the 10 granted for use each year, three REUs are designated for residential projects, while seven are available for commercial projects. The city wants to promote single-family homes on the Island, concerned that commercial projects would use up the remaining sewer capacity if a rationing system were not enacted.

All of the REUs designated for commercial use have been used for 2014, DPW Director Bruce Zimmerman told the planning commission at a meeting Tuesday, June 10, while the residential units are still available. The DPW issues REUs after a construction project has received city approval (by the Planning Commission and/or Historic District Commission) and building department approval.

Commissioner Candi Dunnigan said the Planning Commission should be updated about how much sewer capacity is available as an important part of future planning. Commissioners consider remaining capacity when reviewing projects, she said, and getting reports from the DPW would help. Mr. Zimmerman said he creates sewer capacity availability worksheets for each meeting of the public works board and will provide them to the planning commissioners at their meeting next month.

Commissioner Mary Dufina asked about the process.

Last year, it was also proposed that an official allocation process be determined as a way to dole out remaining sewer capacity each January 1. Sewer hookups are available on a first-come, first-served basis, but last year city staffers sought to establish a line for applicants going through the city review process.

Zoning administrator Dennis Dombroski explained that projects subject to city review are inherently put at a disadvantage when waiting in line for sewer hookups because they have extra layers of city bureaucracy to go through.

“HDC and Planning Commission projects have a handicap,” Mr. Dombroski said. “How do we make things fair?”

He said the proposal last winter was to establish a queue, where once an applicant starts the construction approval process, they stay in a single line.

Mr. Zimmerman replied, “We never really did anything about that….We should do something.”

Planning commissioners agreed.

Mr. Zimmerman said he’d bring the topic up with the BPW at an upcoming meeting, then a joint committee of BPW, planning commissioners, and city council members will follow.

The city’s renovated sewer processing facility is working well, Mr. Zimmerman also noted, but he will wait until next year to have the plant evaluated to determine if the renovation created more sewer capacity.

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