Belding City Council hears update on SAW grant

By Emilee Nielsen • Last Updated 9:29 pm on Thursday, April 06, 2017

BELDING — Nearly three years ago, the Belding City Council approved an application to the Michigan Department of Environment and Quality (MDEQ) for Stormwater, Asset Management, and Wastewater (SAW) improvements.

The grant was approved in 2013 for $881,550 with a city match of $97,050. The city partnered with Fleis & VandenBrink Engineering Inc. of Grand Rapids to handle the project.

In the months following, the engineering firm has done an exhaustive analysis and evaluation of assets in the scope of the city’s sewer and water infrastructure.

During Tuesday evening’s regular meeting of the Belding City Council, the council heard comments from representatives of Fleis & VandenBrink as well as from the vice president of Utility Financial Solutions LLC about the findings and how the city can proceed.

David Bluhm, division manager of Fleis & VandenBrink, and Elaine Venema, project manager of Fleis & VandenBrink, laid out the findings from the field work the firm has conducted in the past two and a half years.

Bluhm said the firm has worked to put together a capital improvement plan (CIP) for the infrastructure improvements the city will need to make in the future. He said the city is in fairly good shape in terms of stormwater and wastewater management in the short term, but there are some big projects that could come up in the future, especially if requirements from the MDEQ become more stringent in different areas.

The main concern in terms of MDEQ requirement changes, he said, is the possibility the MDEQ could crack down on the allowed levels of ammonia present in the water at the wastewater treatment plant in Belding.

The plant is a lagoon system, a system which includes one or more pond-like bodies of water or basins designed to collect and hold wastewater for a predetermined amount of treatment time. The lagoons are lined with clay or other material in order to keep the wastewater from seeping into the ground water underneath.

Water in the lagoons is treated through physical, biological and chemical processes that mostly occur naturally. The system in Belding is assisted by aerators to increase the amount of oxygen in the water and in turn increasing the efficiency of the water treatment.

Venema said some leaks in the lining at the wastewater treatment have been found and fixing those issues are of a high priority to the city, especially if the MDEQ tightens restrictions on the levels of ammonia present.

Part of the reason Venema wanted to bring this issue to the attention of the council is the potential costs associated with upgrading and repairing the existing plant to meet the potential restrictions of the MDEQ. She said it could be quite costly for the city, but said it’s just something to keep an eye on at this point.

Bluhm said in terms of the rest of the water collection systems, there are only three pipes throughout the system which need to looked at in the next few years.

“Your extreme risk footage of pipe is really very low at 800 feet. You have over 105,000 feet of pipe we consider to be in really good shape,” he said.

In the foreseeable future, Bluhm said there are varying levels of expenditures to make repairs and upgrades to the systems. In 2018, there’s about $90,000 of repair work estimated. In 2019, there’s about $20,000 estimated with an additional $16,000 estimated for 2020.

Bluhm said 2021 is when the city will need to look at serious upgrades and repairs.

“We see about $4.8 million total in five-year CIP items,” he said. “It’s a big number. You’ve got a big system and a lot of users. It’s a daunting number, but it’s all solvable.”

Dawn Lund of Utility Financial Solutions presented some strategies for how to finance the infrastructure improvements. She said the best way, in her opinion, would be for the city to slowly raise rates on water and sewer over the next several years in order to fund the capital improvement projects that could be coming in the near future.

Lund said a total rate increase of 5.9 percent to water and sewer services annually for the foreseeable future should help defray costs. The city is already scheduled for a 3 percent increase annually, and Lund’s plan would call for an additional 2.9 percent increase on top of that.

While that percentage may seem scary, Lund said it will factor out to about $2.60 per quarter, or a little over 80 cents a month for the average city resident.

The council did not vote on anything regarding this matter. Mayor Ron Gunderson requested Bluhm attend the next council meeting on April 18 to answer any further questions the council or community members might have.

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