City of Saline Agrees to $100,000 WWTP Fine, Discusses Water Issues, Welcomes New Officers and More

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Kevin Gibson and Jestin Wilder were sworn in as officers in the Saline Police Department by City Clerk Terri Royal Monday.

Infrastructure issues dominated Monday's Saline City Council meeting. Here's a brief summary of the action.

Drinking Water Discoloration

The City of Saline plans to flush the water system in the first week of October and officials hope that helps reduce the frequency of rusty water coming pouring from taps in Saline homes.

"I know that I speak for the entire city and council when I say that the issues of late are not acceptable and that we will work expeditiously to resolve those," Mayor Marl said at Monday's meeting.

Marl asked DPW Director Larry Sirls if the flushing could be moved up, but Sirls said the DPW is short-staffed and busy with Oktoberfest and the scheduled cemetery cleanup.

Sirls said the problem was aesthetic and that the water was safe to consume. He said the water is leaving the plant clean. He also said rust in the city's pipes (along with water heaters) is causing the discolorization.

City Manager Colleen O'Toole said the city was also soon launching a testing program that would allow residents experiencing the problem to collect water and bring it to the city and have the water tested.

Council Votes 6-1 to Approve EGLE's Administrative Consent Order

After more than 18 months, the City of Saline and Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy have negotiated an administrative consent order. The city will have to pay a $100,000 fine because of environmental violations at the wastewater treatment plant in 2019.  Council voted 6-1 to approve the deal with EGLE. Mayor Marl voted no.

Marl objected to the penalty, calling it excessive and arbitrary.

"At no time during the process has EGLE provided metrics criteria or any written documentation to justify the financial penalty that they are proposing," Marl said.

Marl said he conducted his own research and discovered EGLE routine levied smaller fines against communities that committed more serious violations. 

"Conversely, based upon my own analysis and criteria obtained through the EPA, I believe the penalty should be approximately half of what's being proposed," Marl said. "The only logical conclusion one can reach is that penalties are assessed by whim and caprice, rather than by objective analysis."

Several members of council expressed support for Mayor Marl's sentiment but ultimately decided to agree to the consent order.

"There's a time to fight in a time to settle and at this point, we want to move forward for our community," Councillor Dean Girbach said. Girbach made the motion, which was seconded by Councillor Jack Ceo.

Girbach said that dragging the fight would cost more legal fees and could cost the city as it applies for loans and grants to improve its wastewater treatment plant.

"Mr. (Brian) Rubel (of Tetra Tech) explained having this signed agreement is actually a carrot for our ability to get funds from the state," Girbach said.

Wastewater Treatment Plant Report

An ad hoc committee formed to advise the city on water and wastewater treatment issues delivered a report that was surprisingly critical of past operations at the wastewater treatment plant.

Laurie Champion and John Ambrose delivered the report, which also highlighted the progress made at the wastewater treatment plant over the last two years, despite challenges caused by COVID-19 and vacancies in key positions.

Observations included:

  • Many years of deferred maintenance and “workarounds”
  • Some equipment inoperable or unreliable
  • Lack of quality control, oversight, engineering, operational documentation and a need for modernization
  • Leadership culture discouraged identification and/or escalation of problems, which accumulated over time
  • Insufficient staffing to manage turnover and leaves – plant operations were understaffed in recent years

Tetra Tech Pitches $40-$46 Million WWTP Project

Also during the meeting, Brian Rubel, VP of Tetra Tech, began attaching figures to city's plan to rehab the wastewater treatment plant. The first phase - which does not really increase capacity for growth - would come with a price tag of $40.7 to $46.7 million. That's significantly higher than the $31 million cost originally pegged by council. But with the chance to get grants as part of a federal infrastructure program, some of the items planned for phase two are being moved to phase one.

"It really looks advantageous to move more projects to phase one and attempt to get more of those funds than to wait and very likely not have funds be there in five plus years," Rubel told council.

The purpose of phase one was to improve compliance, operations and operator safety, Rubel told council.

Notably, the $40-47 million project was not really really designed to accommodate growth.  Rubel said that the plant is currently at about 86 percent of capacity, based on average daily flows. But limitations of equipment can cause compliance issues during a heavy rainstorm.

City Hires William Briggs as Superintendent of Water, Wastewater Treatment

After 10-month search, the city finally has a new superintendent of water production and wastewater treatment. Council voted 7-0 to hire William Briggs, who has most recently served as superintendent of water and wastewater in Hillsdale. Council also waived the residency requirement. Briggs will be paid a salary of $91,500 and receive fringe benefits. Briggs has more than 30 years of experience in wastewater treatment and 14 years of experience in water treatment and production.

City Agrees to $214,000 for Sewer System Evaluation Study

Council voted 7-0 to approve Tetra Tech's proposal for part two of a sewer system evaluation study at a cost of $214,000. The study is a state requirement to apply for a low-interest state loan for phase one of the wastewater treatment plant project. In August, the council approved $114,230 for the first part of the project, which included smoke tests around the sewer system. The project includes manhole inspections, dyed water testing, pilot testing of footing drains, sewer tv inspection, and more.

$60,003 For Wastewater Pumps

City council approved $60,003 of spending with Kennedy Industry for sewer flygt pumps in the Arboretum and Maplewood Farms subdivisions. The cost is for the pumps only and not installation, which will be included in a larger project this fall.

Police Officers Sworn In

Kevin Gibson and Jestin Wilder were sworn in by Clerk Terri Royal as the newest officers of the Saline Police department. Both are already on the job.

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GBA Development Request Pulled

It appears the deal between the city and GBA Development LLC to purchase 6.5 acres of land on Michigan Avenue (next to Zippy's car wash) has fallen through.

Council was set to consider a proposal to extend the city's purchase agreement with GBA for another nine months - a proposal that city manager O'Toole advised against. The agenda item was pulled from the agenda by GBA Development, Marl said after the meeting. GBA's plans for the property have shifted several times since GBA first offered more than $800,000 for the property in 2019. The original plan called for a grocery store, restaurants and retail. But as time went on, the developers proposed a nursing home and, most recently, a 120-unit apartment building, to go along with restaurants.

Marl said he's already spoken with realtor Tony Caprarese. He was asked about health care facilities as a potential buyer and said he's already had those discussions.

Initially, IHA and GBA made pitches for the property. But GBA offered to buy the who parcel - not just the Michigan Avenue frontage. The city went with GBA.

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