Saline seeking state loan for $86M in wastewater treatment plant, sewer upgrades

SALINE, MI – Saline officials are set to adopt an $86-milllion project plan for major upgrades to the city’s ailing wastewater treatment plant and sewer system, a massive investment that has already upped water and sewer rates for city residents.

To pull off the multi-year project over several phases, Saline is seeking a low-interest loan from a Michigan state fund.

As part of the process, city officials are required to present a project plan to the public and take feedback. A public hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, June 13, at City Hall, 100 North Harris Street. City meetings are also broadcast on Youtube.

A majority of components at the wastewater treatment plant, which dates back to 1955, “are nearing or have exceeded their useful life and are in need of replacement,” a description of the project plan states. “Equipment failures have led to treatment limitations and operational difficulties,” it reads.

Some of those issues have landed the city in hot water with state environmental regulators, and the city agreed last year to pay a $100,000 fine stemming from violations at the plant dating back to 2019.

In recent years, the city has worked with engineering consultants to evaluate whether to build a new wastewater treatment plant altogether or tackle the needed upgrades at the existing plant at 247 Monroe St., which discharges treated water into the Saline River.

The project plan up for consideration on Monday recommends improvements and expansions at the existing facility, with an estimated cost of $62 million for the first phase, meant to handle existing community needs, and $19.6 million for the second, slated to prepare the facility for future demand. It also calls for a $4.6 million rehabilitation of sewer collection systems in Saline, according to meeting documents.

Saline Wastewater Treatment Plant Upgrades

A slide Saline officials presented at an April 22, 2022 town hall meeting on city infrastructure shows two phases of planned upgrades to the city’s aging wastewater treatment plant.City of Saline

Not all of the projects may be completed, depending on city needs when they are scheduled to occur, and that could lower costs, the document states. Taken together, they dwarf the city’s annual budget, but will likely be covered over many years and through multiple external sources.

Saline is seeking a low-interest loan through the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy Clean Water State Revolving Fund, available to help municipalities finance construction at needed water pollution control facilities.

The city is hopeful it could begin phase one of the plant upgrades by summer of 2023 assuming it is awarded the loan dollars, but that depends on material acquisition times, City Manger Colleen O’Toole said.

Based on financing eligible parts of the projects through the loan program, the estimated gross cost to the typical residential water customer in Saline would be about $146.93 per quarter, according to a description of the project plan.

Utility rates have already climbed this summer to cover those costs.

In May, Saline City Council OK’d a significant water and sewer rate increase to help the city make progress on modernizing its utilities, officials said. City leaders who supported the measure noted the increase would be painful but necessary to afford the improvements.

Read more: Water, sewer rates climbing in Saline to support wastewater treatment plant improvements

The need for future rate increases to support the project will depend on whether the city can secure federal or state infrastructure dollars, O’Toole said. The city has made a request for $18 million in federal support to offset the costs, and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow has included the project on her list of funding requests for the upcoming fiscal year.

The draft project plan for the upgrades is available for review at Saline City Hall, the wastewater treatment plant and Saline District Library.

Some of the upgrades will help the wastewater plant handle high flow during storm events, officials said at an April town hall meeting.

The city is facing no choice over whether to act after years of deferred maintenance, they added.

“No community in Michigan certainly is exempt from these type of aging infrastructure issues. The work that we’re looking at here isn’t fancy, it’s not a lot of bells and whistles. This is the work that needs to be done to make sure that we are providing safe, sanitary services for the residents of Saline,” O’Toole said at the meeting.

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