Should Saline build a new wastewater treatment plant? Expand the existing one? Maybe the city should tie into the Ypsilanti system, or help form a new regional system? Perhaps Saline might choose a hybrid plan that borrows from several of those options.
Whatever Saline eventually does, the answer will likely be based on a study conducted by Tetra Tech. Monday night, Saline City Council voted 4-2 to award a wastewater treatment plant siting study for $58,900. Mayor Brian Marl and Councillors Linda TerHaar, Dean Girbach and Jack Ceo voted in favor of the motion. Councillors Janet Dillon and Christen Mitchell voted against the motion. Councillor Heidi McClelland was absent.
In recent years, the city has spent about $8 million renovating the aging facility. That includes a $4 million odor abatement project, managed by Tetra Tech, which has left some council members less than satisfied. So, when it came time to granting the siting study, council had a decision to make.
Should it award the project to Tetra Tech, the low-bidder with a deep understanding of the city’s infrastructure? Or, with residents still complaining about odor from the plant, should the city begin working with a new firm.
According to DPW Director Jeff Fordice, three firms submitted bids on the project. Two firms were invited to meet with city staff and Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner Evan Pratt. Fordice said that all parties agreed Tetra Tech gave the best presentation.
Councillor Jack Ceo spoke in favor of the proposal.
“I think Tetra Tech has done a good job for us in the past. They’ve always been there to answer questions,” Ceo said.
Councillor Linda Terharr was impressed by Tetra Tech’s experience with the city.
“Their knowledge base and working relationships with city staff is persuasive to me,” TerHaar said.
The lingering questions about the effectiveness of the odor abatement project were at the root of many of the concerns about Tetra Tech.
Councillor Christen Mitchell said pointed to recent troubles at the wastewater treatment plant - including odors that persist after the odor abatement project, and constantly malfunctioning filters.
“I’m personally uncomfortable with moving forward with this company. We have projects winding up that don’t feel like they are winding up. We have the issue with the Nova filters. I see an advantage to bringing in fresh eyes,” Mitchell said.
Dillon expressed some frustration with Tetra Tech’s helpfulness on these issues.
“We don’t know what we don’t know. I have concerns because with the wealth of experience they have, I would have expected they would have thought more ‘out of the box.’ Issues have come up in the past, and their stance as been along the lines of, ‘we weren’t asked to look at that.’ If we don’t know there’s an issue, I would expect our experts would tell us,” Dillon said.
Mayor Marl said he saw the value of fresh eyes, but he was persuaded by the recommendation of DPW Director Jeff Fordice.
“I embrace the proposal. I think (Fordice) clearly states the benefits of engaging with a firm with a long-established relationship with the city. This is a very important venture and I look forward to a comprehensive and objective analysis,” Marl said.
In a related note, at least one member of council was impressed by an idea presented by retired DPW employee Erik Grossman. Speaking at the work session earlier in the evening, Grossman suggested the city could send its industrial park waste through the Ypsilanti regional system and continue to use its wastewater treatment plant for residential service. Councillor Dean Girbach asked Tetra Tech to consider innovative hybrid plans in its study.