Saline Mayor Brian Marl and City Councillor Dean Girbach were among several people who spoke in opposition to a permit for the Andelina Farms wastewater system at a Michigan Department of Environmental Quality public hearing held Thursday at Saline City Hall. Also speaking out against the project was a representative for Pulte Homes – which is building another phase of Huntington Woods not far from where wastewater would be discharged into an unnamed tributary of the Saline River.
About 40 people attended the hearing – which took about three hours.
Residents of the city and township have listed several concerns with the proposed development – a 280-home plan that would be built over three phases in Saline Township, with an onsite drinking well and private wastewater treatment plant. DEQ Municipal Permits Supervisor Byron Lane explained the DEQ had a limited scope to consider during Thursday’s meeting.
“In our conversations, we’ve learned there are concerns. But we’re not in a position to consider issues about traffic flow, or even something like the placement of the wastewater treatment plant,” Lane said.
The DEQ was simply there to consider a request for a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit for a sanitary sewer system that would transport 78,000 gallons of sewage each day through the wastewater treatment plant. The wastewater would then be pumped to the outfall location, underneath US-12, past River Ridge, and then south to a tributary of the river.
Saline Ventures, the company behind the development, plans to hire Highland Treatment, Inc., to operate the wastewater plant, which would be subject to all of the same regulations, inspections and monitoring as a city-owned plant.
According to DEQ staff in attendance Thursday, private wastewater systems are no more likely to be mismanaged than public wastewater systems.
After about an hour of presentations and questions and answers, the comments were all opposed to the permitting the wastewater system.
A representative of Pulte Homes, which building Huntington Woods, objected to the permit on the basis of four factors. He said other options with less impact to Huntington Woods exist. Pulte is also concerned with possible health impact of accidental sewer overflows and discharges. The other listed concerns were erosion at the outlet on the Huntington Woods property, and how up to 150,000 gallons of effluent might impact the wetlands.
Mayor Brian Marl echoed the objections of Pulte Homes.
“Discharging effluent on to Huntington Woods is concerning and will ultimately have a detrimental impact to the quality of life of both the existing residents and future residents of phase three (of Huntington Woods,” Marl said.
Saline City Councillor Dean Girbach said his concern is about regional planning. He also said he thought that if the developer was willing to spend $1.5 million on city utilities instead of a private plant, there might be a way to get a deal done.
“We feel like the City of Saline can come up with an agreement to work towards that,” Girbach said. “And, as you all have seen, there is potential for other development (near Andelina Farms).”
Girbach went on to lament a process that puts small cities like Saline under the gun to subsidize developers who often walk away as soon as they realize their profit.
Former Saline DPW employee Erik Grossman said he was concerned about salt from the well water finding its way into the wastewater, and then the watershed. Many residents use sodium to soften their water. City of Saline uses The
“I think that sodium is going to be a future issue, just like you’re discovering that PFAS is now,” Grossman said.
The City of Saline uses reverse osmosis to remove calcium and magnesium from the water. Grossman suggested a hybrid – with the city providing water to the subdivision, and then the city managing the wastewater treatment plant after it’s installed. Grossman said the city could then one day connect the development to the city’s sewer system.
Mike Moeller is a resident of the Torwood Subdivision in the city – across Austin Road from the future Andelina Farms. He said he was opposed to the plan because there are too many unknowns. And while the DEQ wasn’t in Saline to consider air pollution, he brought up the potential for an odor issue.
“For the people who live near the Saline wastewater treatment plant and have that odor problem, I feel their pain. I see that and I’m worried about the future down the road, when my home is worth less, because there’s an odor control problem,” Moeller said. “The developer wants to make as much money as possible, so they want this plant. They don’t necessarily need it. There are other options on the table that can be assessed, whether it’s hooking up to (the city) or septic – making the development smaller.”
Many of the players involved in this issues – the city, the township, the DEQ and the developer – seem to agree the development should be a city property, served by city utilities. The master plans of the city and township show the parcel of land as future city land.
Christine Alexander, section manager for the DEQ in Jackson, said she’s not excited about having a new wastewater treatment facility so close to the city’s plant and the River Ridge plant.
“The Department of Environmental Quality is interested in using a regional wastewater treatment plant. That’s our preferred choice, but for a variety of reasons, that may not be possible at this point,” Alexander said.
The main reason is price. Several years ago, Saline Ventures paid for Tetra Tech to conduct a utilities study for west side development. Based on the study, the city’s ask of the developer would have added $24,000 to the cost of each unit in the development, the developer said at the time.
Mayor Brian Marl continues to speak with township officials, the developer and the DEQ. He reiterated his openness to working toward a solution.
“My office and the City of Saline stand ready to meet with anybody, at any time, anywhere, to engage on these issues of sewer, water, capacity, development and growth, in a more strategic, manageable and wholistic way,” Marl said.
The DEQ will spend time reviewing comments before making a decision. If the permit is granted, the developer will need a construction permit to build the system. DEQ engineers would inspect the designs and the construction for compliance.
There’s very little to indicate the city and developer might reach an agreement in the near future. In fact, statements from the DEQ seem to suggest any agreement might be years away.
The city, which plans to spend $3 million improving the east-belt sewer line in the next three years, has plans to improve the westbelt sewer line, which might theoretically serve Andelina Farms, in 2026.
According to Lane, the DEQ is seeking a provision in the permit that will require the Andelina Farms system to built in such a way that it could connect to city utilities at such time the city can extend them west.