Townships working toward new water plant


WHITNEY TWP. — Heavily turbid waters causing stress to the Sims-Whitney Water Authority’s water plant has led to the townships taking steps toward constructing a new plant.

Sims Township Supervisor Rob Quackenbush said the current plant was built in the early 1980s and over time the lake conditions have changed.

“We purchased and installed some used filtration equipment that has served us well over the past 35 years,” he said. “Now with changing conditions in the lake, we’ve begun to notice significantly reduced efficiency with our system during times of high turbidity.”

“Saginaw Midland (Municipal Water Supply Corporation) sells us the water, they’re right next door, and they draw from Lake Huron,” said Whitney Township Supervisor Donald Becker. “If we get a lot of Northeast winds, it really kicks the turbidity up and we can’t filter it.”

“With this new system, we wouldn’t have to worry about it,” he said.

According to Becker, the Sims-Whitney authority is using equipment that is dated and if the townships do not replace it soon, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is likely to mandate a change in the near future.

“We’re governed by the DEQ as far as quality of water and everything else,” he said. “Actually the DEQ kind of micromanages all of the water distribution plants in the state of Michigan. We’re only one of two systems in the state that still use the DE, the diatomaceous earth, and at any time the DEQ could come in and tell us, ‘Hey you’ve got to update.’”

Quackenbush echoed Becker’s sentiments, saying that in the current environment, taking action is better than being told to take action.

“Due to the situation at Flint, there’s a very strict posture of enforcement activity that’s happening, and we are in full compliance today, but we see that unless we make these improvements, someday we’re going to be mandated by the DEQ to change,” he said. “We feel that by acting proactively here we can save the community a lot of money by doing this on our timeline instead of a timeline mandated by the state of Michigan.”

The plan to fund the new plant is to have the authority secure a bond, Quackenbush said.

“The bonds will have a maximum of a 40-year term,” he said. “That’s the maximum allowed by law. The anticipated cost of the plant is going to be just less than $2.1 million.”

The authority has not put the bonds out to bid yet, Quackenbush said.

“We’re just in the process of starting this,” he said. “The two communities are going to be providing some guarantees of the bonds that the authority will need to bond. Once we receive those bond guarantees that will allow us to continue the process working with our bond attorney at the Foster-Swift Law Firm to organize the creation of the debt financing instruments.”

Bond repayment would be made by increasing rates for customers in Sims and Whitney townships Quackenbush said.

“We’ve done some projections on cost,” he said. “The taxpayers will not be required to pay a penny. The entire weight of the bond issue and the operation of the authority is covered by the water system users.”

Sims Township currently charges users a quarterly ready-to-serve fee of $37 and $3.38 per 1,000 gallons of water used. Whitney Township users are charged $50 every quarter for the ready-to-serve fee and pay $4 per 1,000 gallons.

Becker said compared to other water systems, the cost for users is currently on the low side.

“We have a guy that calculates and gives us the information on what our rates should be to cover costs and everything,” he said.

“I was told it’s below where other places are set at and where we should be,” Becker said.

Quackenbush said no staffing changes are expected with the new plant, which would be built on the same property as the existing one. He said the current equipment, while slowing down at times of heavy turbidity, has not delivered water that has been dirty or tainted.

“We have no complaints from consumers regarding the water quality,” he said. “This project is the result of the board working with our employees at the water plant and our employees recognizing the change in conditions and how they are having an adverse effect on the operations of the plant. I need to give them significant credit for bringing this to us.”


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