Live Reporting of the Oct. 19, 2020 Saline City Council Meeting

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The following is reporting from Monday's council meeting.

The Wastewater Treatment Plant Siting Study

Brian Rubel of TetraTech opened the discussion. TetraTech was paid by the city to conduct the siting study, which recommended several options for wastewater treatment plant capacity in the future.

The city is opting to revamp and rebuild at the site of its Monroe Street plant.

Rubel said biosolids management is a limiting process at the current plant. There's not much space at the existing plant, especially in wet conditions. 

A second issue is financing. The Michigan low-interest loan program has pre-requisites that may take and work - work that can be done now. 

Rubel said the city should think about growth outside its current city limits. The speed of the growth may dictate how the project will be phased, Rubel said.

Patti McCall provided council with an environmental analysis on three parcels. FOIA documents from the state and EPA are delayed regarding the Adient properties. McCall said COVID-19 has delayed FOIA documents. Site walks have been completed, but the FOIA documents are key.

"We're at a standstill to understand what those concerns are until we receive those documents," McCall said.

Mayor Marl asked when McCall expects to hear more on the FOIAs. McCall said she hoped it was this month.

Council has considered using one or more of the Adient parcels for wastewater treatment expansion - though there is considerable opposition to using the property on the west side of the road.

Mayor Marl opened the council roundtable.

Councillor Kevin Camero-Sulak asked if council can do anything to expedite the FOIA process. Rubel suggested Saline would have to wait its turn. 

Camero-Sulak said the city could start working on the low-interest loan program. Rubel said the city attorney and financial advisor could put together information for the city.

Rubel said the current plant should accommodate current flows. Rubel said the city needs to decide what the growth scenario would look like.

Councillor Jack Ceo said staying at the current location is the most reasonable solution. He asked Rubel if we have enough room on the current site for growth. Rubel said the current site is sufficient for growth.

But, Rubel said, "you are going to get closer to the neighbors," Rubel said.

Councillor Jim Dell'Orco said COVID-19 has made it difficult to anticipate growth. He asked how that played into the plans. He noted phase one of the preferred plan only included serving current customers. Rubel said he thought he thought phase one included some growth.

Dell'Orco said it's difficult to project. He asked if there are models TetraTech can recommend.

Dell'Orco asked about the previously-mentioned pre-requisites. Rubel said the prerequisites could take years.

Councillor Janet Dillon asked about whether all of the siting study options qualify for the funding programs. Rubel said they all should qualify for SRF funding. Dillon asked about a time frame. Rubel said it would take a year to design the first phase and get it out to bid. It would take 18-24 months to build. If the process began now, it would take three years. Going through the SRF program could make it a 4-5 year build.

Dillon asked if the current plant can handle the current situation. Rubel said during storms and wet weather, the plant will struggle to meet needs.

Dillon asked about option three, which ties into YCUA. Dillon asked why the city isn't looking into it, noting easier operations.

Rubel said if the cost was no option, it would make sense.

Dillon said the major factor for council will be understanding growth.

Dillon asked if there are concerns that the city's method of land application of biosolids to agricultural lands will become obsolete. Rubel said he didn't see that happening in the next couple of years.

Councillor Christen Mitchell asked plant superintendent Steve Wyzgoski about his comments that the "sooner a new plant is built, the better." Wyzgoski said he doesn't want to keep coming to council asking for money to repair equipment.

Mitchell said she didn't think the plant was working well for residents in the area.

Mitchell asked about problems with the clarifier. Wyzgoski said the clarifier was an issue. He suggested more pumps are needed to move sludge more effectively.

Rubel noted $20 million in needs in the current plant.

Mitchell noted that phase one might take us through 2050 with light growth. Mitchell said she was struggling to balance $20 million in needs for the current plant with a new plant.

Mitchell said with $20 million in needs, and constant issues from neighbors, waiting was not an issue.

Rubel said he was looking at it from a water quality/standard point of view.

Rubel said the plant performance has improved dramatically since the RBCs were put in place.

Mitchell said she's hearing from residents about odors.

Rubel said he was uncertain why Mitchell was linking plant expansion with odor control.

Mayor Brian Marl asked colleagues on council to zero in on consensus to grow and expand in place. He hoped for more news by Nov. 9.

Marl said in light of COVID-19, it is hard to predict what's going to happen in the economy.

He polled council about whether or not they would meet at 5:30 p.m., Nov. 9.  Girbach said he wanted to see more clarification on the direction this was heading.

Marl said he thought there were three major issues: financing, forecasting growth and the environmental assessments.

Dillon issued concern with trying to develop a good growth projection by Nov. 9.

Regular Meeting

Mitchell recommended changing the agenda to remove the city manager search discussion and recommended hiring Colleen O'Toole and add the downtown recovery zone. Camero-Sulak seconded the motion.

Ceo said he objected to changing the agenda because he wanted a full discussion. Council voted 4-3 to change the agenda.

Public Comment

Paul Geragosian, owner of Brecon Grille, said the city needs to do more than vote on Umbrella Square to help small businesses in downtown Saline. He said other towns are investing in downtowns and supported businesses. He wants to see patio igloos, heat lamps, fire pits and more. "We need your help," Geragosian said.

Mary Hess said the City of Saline is more than four corners. On the wastewater treatment plant issue, Hess said taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for future growth.

Holli Andrews, Director of Saline Main Street, quoted Mayor Bliss of Grand Rapid, on what restaurants contribute to the soul and vibrancy of communities, and why cities should work to help restaurants.

Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund Proposal

Parks Director Scruggs said the city has used these kinds of revenues for grants, like with Salt Spring Park development. Councillor Mitchell, who asked this issue be removed from the consent agenda, for discussion, and expressed concerns with the ballot proposal.

Council voted 5-2 to pass the resolution in favor of the proposal.

WWTP Biosolids Study Proposal

Council is considering a $43,500 TetraTech study on wastewater biosolids. Currently, twice a year, biosolids are hauled away and spread on farm fields. But there's talk that perhaps that's not environmentally safe, Rubel said. Rubel said this could be a key piece in figuring out the process at a potential new plant.

Storage capacity is lacking at the plant.

Councillor Ceo asked what kind of alternatives were possible? They were listed in the memo:

  • Anaerobic Digestion, liquid storage, and land application (current strategy)
  • Anaerobic Digestion, dewatered cake storage and land application
  • Anaerobic Digestion with energy recovery of methane gas, liquid storage, and land disposal. This option has the potential to use the methane gas generated by the digestion process to generate electricity to run the plant operations.
  • Thickening and Dewatering of biosolids, the dewatered matter would then be trucked for disposal to landfills for disposal.

Councillor Dell'Orco said the sludge today is mostly water, and it costs money to store. Dell'Orco asked what the other communities are doing. Rubel said different communities choose different options.

Dell'Orco said he has arrived at the conclusion that land application is not a viable solution for biosolids.

The motion was moved by Girbach and seconded by Ceo. The motion passed 7-0.

Final Payment to D & H Asphalt Company

Council voted 7-0  to approve the final payment to D & H Asphalt Company in the amount of $29,477.46 for the 211 Monroe Street parking lot resurfacing project (Annie's preschool parking lot). It was $588 over the original estimate.

Change Order # 1 & 2 Fonson, 2020 Streets and Utilities Project

Council voted 7-0 to approve  $22,959.25 and $19,290.70 change orders on the work on Mills, Watson, Whittier and Nichols streets. Fonson Company, Inc., was the contractor. 

Motion to Direct Staff to Hire Colleen O'Toole for City Manager

As per Mitchell's request, this issue was brought up before the discussion. Mitchell motioned to hire Colleen O'Toole as city manager.

"One candidate stood out and was able to answer questions concisely," Mitchell said. 

Marl said it was premature to make a conditional offer. He questioned the wording of the motion.

Marl read a prepared statement thanking everyone involved in the process. Marl said it was the most important position in the city and council needs to be thoughtful. He called for further interviews. He favored bringing back O'Toole and Todd Mutchler, of Northville Township.

Dillon said she had a preferred candidate.

Dell'Orco said he has questions for the same candidates Marl chose.

Ceo also spoke highly of O'Toole and Mutchler. He said he had a few more questions of both. Girbach said he had three candidates he wanted to know more about.

Camero-Sulak said he was impressed by two candidates. He asked if prolonging the process sets a precedent and derails the hiring process for any other department in the city. He agreed Mutchler and O'Toole were the best candidates, but preferred O'Toole due to "stellar" qualifications.

Mitchell withdrew her motion and Camero-Sulak withdrew his second.

Council voted to direct staff to schedule further interviews with Mutchler and O'Toole.  It was moved by Ceo and seconded by Mitchell. It passed 7-0.

Marl said he hoped interviews might take place this weekend or early next week.

Commission, Committee, and Task Force Reports

The DEI task force met, Camero-Sulak reported, and had safe and comfortable discussions on team building.

Girbach said there was a rezoning request withdrawn for Maple Road property north of the courthouse. A new request should be forthcoming. The risk mitigation task force has met with department heads.

Dillon commended Scruggs and Parks staff for Park or Treat. Another upcoming event is Howl'oween, Oct. 25 at the Dog Park at Mill Pond Park

Mitchell said the Historic District Commission as a walking meeting Wednesday. The River Raisin Watershed meeting is Thursday on Zoom.

Reports and Other AnnouncementsDillon asked about trick-or-treating.

Mitchell tanked staff for releasing the dam report. She asked when it would be released to the public. Greene said it would be when the final report was finished. Mitchell asked about work on the guard rail by the dam and when it happened.

Marl said he was hosting a mayoral coffee hour at 6:30 p.m., Thursday. It will be at city hall and on Zoom.

Trick Or Treating

Greene said trick or treating takes place from 6-8 p.m. He encouraged trick-or-treaters to wear masks (beyond their costumes)

Police Chief Hart said city police cadets and VIPs will be out to provide presence.

WWTP Update

A biosolids audit by EGLE went well.  The bioscrubber fan is operating at a reduced speed due to vibration concerns. A contractor is in place to fix the fan.

Answering a question from Ceo, Greene said he's reached out to Webster Environmental for a walk-through of the plant. Webster oversaw the WWTP odor plant.

Water Quality Report

Councillor Dillon asked about covered hydrants.  Fordice said it's not unusual to discover some hydrants need maintenance.

Marl read a statement apologizing for hard and cloudy quality. A recent hydrant-flushing program should help with water quality. He said flushing should occur many times per year. The city's southeast corridor has not yet been flushed. Marl said the city tests more than required and tests come back without E. coli.

Camero-Sulak asked about the 12 testing sites Marl mentioned. Wyzgoski said the 12 sites are recommended by EGLE.

Fence between WWTP and Armbruster's Property

Greene said the staff wants to know if council wants staff to move forward on this fence between Armbruster's property and the WWTP.

Camero-Sulak said other property owners don't seem to want the fence. He suggested paying for the fence but having Armbruster take ownership of it. 

Ceo said he didn't think the city could afford to build a fence for one person and said he worried about the precedent. He said other neighbors would rather spend the money on fixing issues at the plant.

Dell'Orco said the city sought out the opinions of the other residents to make sure the city wasn't going to have to build a fence for everyone. He said these issues can be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Dell'Orco said the fence should be on her property and owned by Armbruster.

Dillon said it would open the door to any resident requesting a barrier between their property and adjacent city-owned property. Dillon said she wasn't sure the fence would solve the problem. She said she wasn't in favor of moving forward, and would rather focus on the odor issue.

Mitchell said she worried about the city building something on someone's property. She said the time and money should be dedicated to fixing the odor issue. She does not support moving forward with the fence.

Marl said he doesn't see a fence being appropriate or prudent.

Downtown Recovery ZoneDowntown business owners want fire pits downtown. Greene said they are not permitted at the moment.

Camero-Sulak said the city needs to support the downtown businesses and all businesses. He said the city needs to think outside the box and find solutions. Camero-Sulak said some businesses are fighting for their survival this winter.

Ceo agreed with the need to help businesses. But he said he was dismayed by the last-minute timing of the request. Council doesn't meet again until November and he has a lot of questions about outdoor grills and igloos.

Holli Andrews said the request was last-minute because she took time off for the first time since Christmas. The weather turned cold and the recovery zone was no longer functional, so she's been working urgently.

She's advocating small fire rings with lids that allow them to be contained. 

Andrews the situation downtown was dire.

Geragosian said the fire pits are meant to add another experience downtown. Geragosian said other restaurants want to keep the recovery zone open, because it will be hard to manage the winter without it.

Dell'Orco said this request required scrutiny from a public safety point of view. Dell'Orco said he wanted to see these fire pits evaluated by the fire chief and police chief.

Andrews said there would be volunteer firekeepers to help.

Dillon asked who would own the firepits. Andrews said she wasn't sure, but it wouldn't be the city. Geragosian said he'd buy one, too.

Dillon asked how many there would be?

Andrews said the answer depended on what the fire department said.

Dillon asked if the firepits would cost seating.

Dillon asked about cooking on the devices and health department guidelines.

Geragosian said hot dogs, smores and brats could be prepared with the firepits.

Dillon asked who would clear snow.

Geragosian said he's responsible for clearing snow off the sidewalks.

Dillon asked about clearing snow from the roads. Geragosian said they would contract with snow removal companies to keep the area clear.

Dillon said one thing we're not talking about is that we're talking about three restaurants. Andrews said they can't make it work for everyone.

Dillon said the recovery zone is empty 90 percent of the time. Andrews said it was because it was cold. Dillon said that was her point.

Andrews said the firepits throw heat.

She said the city isn't giving the businesses a recovery zone that will work. She said the firepits will make it work. She said the city has to try.

Dillon said the city needed to be mindful of other businesses beyond the four corners. Andrews said the city should do more for the small businesses in Saline.

Council Christen Mitchell said the city has not been proactive on this matter, saying the city new the recovery zone was set to expire at the end of October. She said the city is taking advantage of Andrews' generosity. She said she was willing to "try" the proposal.

Marl said the proposal warrants additional evaluation with input from police, fire, the DPW and attorney's office. He said he'd consider a special meeting if required to expedite a decision.

Girbach said his concern is someone getting hurt. He wants assurances businesses will stop using fire lanes for loading and unloading.

The actual proposal was not included in the city agenda packet.

Marl asked Greene to follow up with Andrews and the downtown restaurant owners for a potential special meeting.

The recovery zone ends at the end of November.

Geragosian said he hoped council would consider 30-day extensions each month.

Public Comment

Hess spoke about the Armbruster fence. She said she felt the downtown recovery zone was "half-baked." She said the council has a whole city to watch, and not just four corners.

Bernard Miller thanked the city for allowing his family to fund CJ Robison's Eagle Scout project.

Library Director Mary Ellen Mulcrone thanked the Friends of the Library for their continued support of the Saline District Library.

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