Saline City Council took a major step toward solving the wastewater treatment plant odor problem on the city’s south side.
Council voted 6-0 (Mayor Brian Marl was absent) to approve a resolution adopting a financial project plan for wastewater system improvements. The project plan is required to be considered for the State of Michigan’s low-interest loan program, which would allow the city to borrow $2.7 million while paying about 2.5 percent interest over 20 years. The project includes:
- Construction of carbon absorption odor control system at the WWTP.
- An odor control system at the southside pump station.
- A new effluent flood pump at the WWTP.
- A natural gas generator for the Sauk Trail pump station.
The final two projects are unrelated to the odor abatement issue.
In March, Webster Environmental Services provided the results of an odor study to the city. The main problem is a 21-year-old odor scrubber that was removing less than 20 percent of the hydrogen sulfide effluent. A second scrubber, installed in 2000, was performing better but creating chemical leaks and a hazard for workers.
After hearing from residents who spoke about the severity and urgency of the problem, council also took steps that might expedite the process. Council motioned to have city staff explore financing the project through other means. Going through the state loan process means the project wouldn’t begin until next spring. It is expected to take approximately 12 months.
The wastewater treatment plant odor problem was the dominant topic in city council’s three hour and 20-minute meeting Monday.
Residents who spoke during the public hearing on the project plan came with the understanding that the fix was two years away – and that didn’t sit well with them.
Joan Roth has lived in her home on Annwood Court since 1979. Her husband, Jim, has lived there since 1972. They live 150 feet from the wastewater treatment plant. Over the years the plant has expanded. Odor has always been an issue, she said. But lately, something has changed.
“Sewage odors are worse than they’ve ever been,” Roth said. “I implore you to expedite the loan process. Two more years of this persistent, daily stench is unacceptable.”
Judy Comstock has lived on Annwood Court since 1997. She agreed that the smell is the worst it’s ever been.
“The smell is so bad that we can’t go out without coughing. We can’t go on the deck to use the grill. We can’t let the dog out without coughing,” Comstock said. “We are concerned about our health. We are concerned about the dog’s health,” Comstock said.
Crestwood Circle resident Kevin Balasick asked if fixing the old treatment plant was the wise course of action if the plant is at 80 percent capacity and development is on the way. He also asked another question.
“What if you spend all this money to get it fixed, only to find out it’s not up to par,” Balasick asked. “What then? Who will fix it? Will we have to fork out more money for taxes?”
Costs are typically rolled into water and sewer bills.
Aided by City Superintendent Gary Roubal and officials from TetraTech, who have managed the construction projects city council discussed the issue for more than an hour.
When applying for the state’s revolving loan fund, there are regular intervals and deadlines. For example, the city must apply by July 1. By August, the state will rank applications for the loan and prioritize the projects, giving cities a good idea of who will be funded. The final rankings are released in October.
Using this timeline, the city would advertise for construction bids in March, open them in April and then begin construction, which would take about 12 months – putting the completion date around April, 2019.
Councillor Janet Dillon asked what would happen if the city’s application was not selected. TetraTech’s Brian Rubel said it would likely be a priority for the next year – pushing the project another year out.
Councillor Christen Mitchell pushed the discussion toward fixing it sooner than later – even if it means forgoing the low-interest loan.
“I want to stay focused on odor abatement and speed. Our community has spoken. They have tasked us with fixing the problem and fixing it soon,” Mitchell said.
She asked about the difference in financing with the state’s 2.5 percent loan and other funding mechanisms.
“Could we do this faster? It’s tempting to say, ‘why not?’” she said.
Councillor Dean Girbach later motioned to direct city staff to explore the cost and timelines if alternate funding mechanisms were considered.
Councillor Jack Ceo agreed.
“I would like the city to explore alternative options. If it we fail to be granted the loan, we are at least equipped to move forward as expeditiously as possible,” Ceo said.
The motion passed unanimously.
Later in the meeting WWTP Superintendent Bob Scull said the city had received 23 complaints about the plant’s odor since the last meeting.
Scull said that some of the door may have been caused by a spill when sludge was being removed from the plant. Sludge removal happens twice a year and usually lasts two or three days, Scull said.