Saline City Council glimpsed the future last week. What they saw was very, very expensive.
A wastewater treatment plant siting study conducted by Tetra Tech showed improving the city’s wastewater capacity to meet the needs of project growth cost anywhere from $76-94 million. Put another way, if funded solely by water and sewer users, the average quarterly utility bill would increase by $283 to 353.
Jim Dell’Orco, one of two new city council members, looked at the utility bill increases.
“Are these numbers above and beyond what residents currently pay?” Dell’Orco asked of Tetra Tech vice president Brian Rubel.
Rubel confirmed they were.
“Wow. That’s pretty alarming,” Dell’Orco replied. “Thank you for clearing that up.”
Welcome to city council, Mr. Dell’Orco.
The numbers were difficult to digest. But, Mayor Brian cautioned, they are “very, very preliminary.” And, Marl said, there are things that can bring those figures down.
For one, as homes come aboard, those costs will be shared by more users. The city could also use fund balance dollars for infrastructure improvements.
And, depending on which route the city goes, the city might be able to build capacity over a 10-year period.
It’s also important to consider that the city isn’t talking about a small capacity upgrade. Tetra Tech’s study was for basically doubling the city’s wastewater capacity to serve long-agreed upon “urban development areas” in Saline and Lodi townships. There are about 2,000 acres of land in the UDAs. The City of Saline is about 2,600 acres.
Another key point to consider is that the city would have to spend about $12 million (about $43 per home per quarter) just to sustain the existing nearly-60-year-old plant on South Monroe Street.
The city asked Tetra Tech to study four different ways to increase capacity: Upgrade the current plant and increase capacity, find new land and build a new plant, join the Ypsilanti utilities and pipe the wastewater to Pittsfield Township, and some combination of pumping to the Ypsilanti plant and upgrading the existing facility.
The cheapest option, according to Tetra Tech, is to upgrade and improve the existing site for $76 million (a $283/quarter utility bill increase for the average single-family home). The cheapest option for building a new plant would be to choose a location south of the current facility. That would cost $89.5 million, not including the cost of buying land (for a quarterly utility bill increase of $334). Pumping the waste to the Ypsilanti plan would cost $86.5 million, plus some debt servicing fees (an extra $389 per quarter). An option to combine piping to Ypsilanti and increasing the existing plan would cost $176 million.
Improving the existing site is the cheapest. The city might also be able to leverage the vacant Adient property across the street. But there are issues. For one, there’s not much room to grow on the existing site. And it’s unclear if the polluted Adient site can be built upon. In addition, there is the risk of doing construction on a site with a functioning plant.
Mayor Marl said he was zeroing in on the two cheaper alternatives - increasing the capacity of the existing site, or piping the waste to the Ypsilanti system. He said finding locations for a new plant might be impractical.
Council members had several questions and comments. Councilor Jack Ceo suggested he liked the idea of a new plant because there were probably not as many people who would be impacted by the plant if it were located at one of the township locations.
Councilor Jim Dell’Orco said he was concerned about investing nearly $80 million into an old facility that might not meet new regulations.
Councilor Janet Dillon expressed concern about what the city might do with its current site if council selected to build new or pipe to Ypsilanti. She asked if the land would be contaminated. Rubel said there was no way of knowing. Councilor Girbach said there was an old city dump on the site.
Dillon asked if expanding and upgrading the current facility would move equipment closer to homes. Rubel replied that it would be.
“I don’t think there’s a way to get around that,” he said.
Councilor Kevin Camero-Sulak asked if the estimates factored in the constantly increasing costs of labor and equipment. Rubel said Tetra Tech considered that, marking up prices for 10 per cent inflation.
Councilor Christen Mitchell asked when Tetra Tech delivered the original support to city council, which didn’t have long to digest the 37-page, fact-filled report. The original draft was delivered to city staff in mid-December.
After the most recent city council meeting, The Saline Post asked Mayor Marl if the existing plant can handle infill development, Layher Farms and Andelina Farms. Marl replied that it could.
The existing plant was designed to handle 1.8 million gallons of flow per day. Last year, the average daily flow was 1.5 million gallons - or 82.9 per cent of capacity. According to the Tetra Tech, the state usually requires a plant expansion evaluation be conducted when a facility reaches 85 per cent capacity.
However, last year was wetter than normal, up from 1.4 million in 2018.The 10-year average is 1.31 - about 72.4 per cent of capacity.
Council will continue discussing the issue at a future work meeting.