Traverse City News and Events

More City Water Repairs Flagged; TC Could Apply For Millions From State For Upgrades

By Beth Milligan | April 26, 2021

On the heels of a March study that highlighted millions of dollars in recommended fixes to Traverse City’s water system, city commissioners will discuss a new report tonight (Monday) focused on repairs at the wastewater treatment plant. Piping at the plant is “severely distressed” and could cause “disastrous flooding” in the lower level of the plant if not soon addressed, according to the report. City staff plan to apply for low-interest state loans this summer that could cover millions of dollars in upgrades to both the city’s drinking and sewer/stormwater systems.

Consulting group Hubbell, Roth & Clark is responsible for the treatment plant report, as well as the March study of Traverse City’s water distribution system. The state of Michigan requires communities to conduct a reliability study of their water infrastructure every five years. At the treatment plant, the firm found that the plant’s primary influent distribution piping is exhibiting severe leaks, one of which in recent years “almost resulted in a catastrophic failure of the entire pipe system.”

That disaster was narrowly avoided by the quick actions of plant staff. According to Director of Municipal Utilities Art Krueger, the leak occurred “on a smaller three-inch pipe that connects to the main header pipe in the building. It was basically a failure of the connection joint, and it leaked into the basement. We had to get emergency pumps on board and keep the flooding to a minimum to avoid further damages in the basement.” If severe flooding had occurred then – or if it occurs in the future, as Hubble, Roth & Clark warns is possible – Krueger says electrical equipment and other controls in the basement could be at risk. “A portion of the plant operations could be jeopardized,” he says. “Part of the (wastewater) treatment process could be hampered until it was repaired.”

Fixing the distribution piping alone would likely cost around $1 million, according to the report. However, other repairs are recommended at the plant – notably installing new tanks, pumps, and grit removal equipment – that should be coordinated in tandem with the pipe replacement, consultants said. In total, Hubbell, Roth & Clark recommended $14.5 million in improvements to the wastewater treatment plant, a price tag that includes engineering and contingency costs.

Figuring out how to prioritize what gets fixed first – and how it will be funded – is the next step for city staff and commissioners. The treatment plant isn’t the only urgent area of infrastructure that needs to be addressed. Millions in upgrades were recommended for the city’s water distribution system throughout town, and fixing a section of Boardman River retaining wall to avoid a future catastrophic sewer failure in downtown Traverse City could cost north of $2.4 million. City Manager Marty Colburn acknowledged to commissioners in March that all those projects can’t happen at once, and that the task for the city will be to target the most important ones as quickly as funding will allow. “We’re not going to try and solve these all in one year,” he said.

Krueger says the city has the potential to secure millions of dollars in state funding this year through two revolving loan funds: the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which focuses on wastewater/stormwater projects to reduce water pollution, and the Drinking Water Revolving Fund, which focuses on drinking water projects. The loans typically last from 20-30 years and average around two percent for interest rates. Loan applications are due June 1 for the Clean Water fund and July 1 for the Drinking Water fund. The city submits a project plan, or a list of repairs it hopes to tackle – similar to a capital improvement plan – and would learn in the fall what loan funding it qualifies for, if any.

“The project plan is a report that summarizes the need, all of the projects we potentially would want to build right now and in five years,” Krueger says. “You don’t get all the money in one shot, but you can program it (out on an annual basis) if you’re chosen. It’s a competitive point system, but our need is pretty strong and the environment is potentially impacted if we don’t do these projects. So I think we have a good shot at it.”

Krueger says the city will hold required public hearings on the project plans in May and June before the loan applications are submitted, with city commissioners also giving input on the projects that will be included. Treatment plant repairs are among the projects staff are planning to include, he says. Certain projects may also qualify for grant funding in addition to state loans, according to Krueger – with the city pursuing multiple avenues to try and line up resources to address the community’s aging infrastructure. “It’s definitely a balancing act to try and address the most urgent needs and secure funding,” Krueger says.

Photo Credit: Jacobs (operating firm for Traverse City's wastewater treatment plant)

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