BELDING — An introduction of a new grant program by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for Storm Water, Asset Management and Waste Water (SAW) has members of Belding City Council hopeful that extra funds could be available to help improve the city’s wastewater plant and more.
Council members voted 5-0 Tuesday evening to approve a proposal from Fleis & Vandenbrink Engineering Inc. of Grand Rapids for assistance with the SAW grant program.
Fleis & Vandenbrink was selected by the city council on June 4 to help perform work at the city’s wastewater plant to correct a berm situation in a lagoon where a slow leak is present.
Fleis & Vandenbrink Vice President Steve Vandenbrink was in attendance Tuesday and requested that the city allow the engineering firm to assist with applying for the grant.
“The good news is the planning, engineering and non-construction work for this (repair) project is eligible for a 90 percent grant for activities from January 2013 and forward,” he said. “It makes sense to proceed with the SAW program to help subsidize this work.”
According to Vandenbrink, the state legislature approved $97 million in funds to be allocated to various Michigan communities on a first come, first serve basis to fund Asset Management Plans. The deadline to apply for the grant is Dec. 2.
“An Asset Management Plan provides a strategy and planning tool for managing your infrastructure,” he said. “The overall goal is to get the most value out of your infrastructure while providing the expected level of service.”
The grants can be awarded as high as $2 million per community, with a 10 percent match by the city for the first million and 25 percent match for the second million.
“The grant program offers a rare opportunity for significant grant funding for the planning and design of storm water and wastewater systems,” he said.
Vandenbrink added that the grant will cover development of Asset Management Plans, a Storm Water Plan and Waste Water Collection and Treatment Plan.
If the city were to qualify as a disadvantaged community by the state, based on average household income, the grant would be awarded with no required match by the city plus up to $500,000 in grant money for construction.
Caution was raised at Tuesday’s meeting by Mayor Ron Gunderson, who said he was worried that if the city received money for the planning and major problems were then discovered, the city would be handcuffed to fix the problems without the financial means to do so.
“It seems like we’ll be gathering a database of information and we might find some issues that we may not even know about.” he said. “It would be nice to know what we could afford to spend money on.”
Department of Public Works Director Ernie Thomas said there is a potential that larger problems could be discovered.
“There’s some concerns out there, they are not a problem now, but in the next few years, they could be,” he said. “ There’s some issues that need to be addressed before it becomes a disaster.”
Wastewater Treatment Plant Superintendent Bill Ribbens said he recommended city council approve the resolution and apply for the grant as the city will be required by new legislation to create an asset management plan regardless of whether the city receives the grant or not.
“I recently found out about this asset management plan that we will be required to implement,” he said. “It’s a good idea to have because if something is underground or down in the drain, people don’t think about it. If you’ve got an asset, you have to know what it’s going to cost to take care of it. This (plan) is supposed to take the surprise out of it.”
City Manager Meg Mullendore said she believes pursuing the grant is a “win-win situation” for the city.
“There are things that we have to do anyway that the state is requiring of us and for us not to take advantage of this would be erroneous of us,” she said. “I’m going to vehemently recommend that we approve this request.”
The items eligible for improvement in the wastewater system and storm water system asset management plans include updating of mapping, developing geographic information system (GIS) mapping and purchase of GIS software and training of city staff, scanning existing construction drawings and tie into GIS linked mapping for easy retrieval, evaluating the condition of the storm water system or where the city is lacking storm sewers and having drainage or structural problems, developing a report that updates the storm sewer master plan to summarize the work completed and evaluation of the condition and capacities of the wastewater treatment plant, including all buildings and structures, hydraulic capacities and treatment capacities.