2017-10-12 / Front Page

DEQ discusses impending deadline for CSO correction

Additional projects, worth millions, needed to eliminate combined sewer overflow

MANISTIQUE – An impending Department of Environmental Quality deadline was the topic of Tuesday’s Manistique City Council meeting. Meeting the deadline will involve the replacement of more water and sewer lines throughout the city.

According to City Manager Sheila Aldrich, the city has a CSO (combined sewer overflow) issue that needs to be corrected prior to Dec. 31, 2019. The city is currently working with the DEQ to ensure the deadline is met and the city incurs no financial penalties.

Steve Casey, district coordinator for the DEQ’s Water Resources Division Upper Peninsula District Office, was present at the meeting to discuss the city’s situation and the steps needed to correct it.

“It’s illegal to discharge raw sewage … into the waters of the state of Michigan and it has been for decades,” he explained. “In the 1980s, as the wastewater treatment plants were improved, the focus in this country became the combined sewers that discharged raw sewage every time it rains.”

When establishing deadlines for communities to correct CSO issues, Casey said most were given five to 10 years to complete the work.

“There were a few communities in Michigan that we realized it was going to be especially difficult to do and Manistique is one of those,” he explained. “Manistique’s difficulty comes primarily from geology – there’s bedrock here, and bedrock is almost twice as expensive … to put in sewers.”

This difficulty was apparent in the city’s $8.6 million infrastructure project that wrapped up in 2012. This project saw the addition of blasting through shale beneath the surface on the east side of Manistique.

Casey pointed out that the second factor in Manistique’s extended deadline is the configuration of the city’s old water and sewer lines.

“The water and sewer, when they were put in, were put in the same trench, and that’s not safe,” he said. “If the sewer leaks and you lose pressure in the water main, you’ve got people drinking sewage.”

For this reason, Casey explained the law requires water and sewer lines be placed 10 feet apart.

“When we do the separation, not only are you working with rock, but you have to put a new trench in,” he said.

As the city approaches the end of its 30-year deadline, Casey explained that the CSO will not likely be fully completed.

“Manistique needs to move very resolutely to solve the problem,” he said, noting that he is aware the city is currently working with USDA Rural Development to obtain loans and/or grants to work toward closing the CSO. “That’s a good step, but it’s only one of probably three projects, maybe four, that you need to finish this job.”

Casey said that in 2020, the DEQ will evaluate where Manistique t and develop a “short schedule” to complete the CSO closure. He noted that the city’s water/wasterwater superintendent, Corey Barr, had indicated that the after the completion of the next phase of the project, the city should be able to show that during 25-year, 24-hour rain storm (approximately four inches of rain in 24 hours) the city will not have an overflow.

“That’s the statewide standard, but it’s probably not going to happen,” said Casey. “You probably have to continue to do more than that (project).”

Councilperson Rick Hollister asked if the DEQ would be flexible with the city or if 2020 is a firm deadline.

“There’s a permit that says you have to do it by 2020, and if you don’t have it done, then the state has a decision to make. You’re in noncompliance with your permit; you’re having raw sewage discharges still,” he said. “Our choices are to levy a fine … with a tight schedule for finishing it or, if we feel that the city has made a good faith effort and is continuing to make one, to set another deadline.”

Casey said he has been working with Barr and the city’s engineer to examine the history of the city’s water and sewer system and why the project has not been completed. What is apparent, he noted, is that the city was not able to direct funds to the project at the rate needed to see its completion through.

Currently, the city has completed approximately 65 percent of its CSO, Barr said, based on linear footage of pipe. The project the city for which the city is attempting to acquire funding will likely bring the city to 75 percent completion, he added.

“If you make a good faith effort and you just haven’t made it, then we’re not going to levy a fine, we’re going to set another deadline and watch it very closely,” Casey explained, adding that though the statute governing the CSO closures allows the DEQ to fine up to $25,000 a day for communities in non-compliance, this is not the goal of the agency. “We’re looking to be positive and work toward a solution. Fining someone who is at the end of their financial capabilities doesn’t make sense.”

Casey added that he would be willing to attend an informatory meeting for the public about the CSO closure and the funds needed to complete it.

Jeff Sjoquist, with Coleman Engineering, explained that the city has an application in to USDA Rural Development and is awaiting an offer for the next project. The requested funding for upgrading another section of sewer and water infrastructure is approximately $6 million.

If funding is approved, Sjoquist said construction would likely begin mid-2018 and wrap-up in 2019. The areas that may be included are all located on the east side of town: Oak Street; Range Street; Park Avenue; Washington Avenue; Gero Avenue; Terrace Avenue; Cherry Street; and Steuben Street.

“There’s been a fair amount of work done behind the scenes in preparing, at least in concept, what all needs to be done to get to the finish line,” he explained. “At one point in time, we were thinking about doing the whole works. Now we’ve kind of decided that it’s best … to split it into phases with this being the first phase.”

In other business, council also approved the contracts for its union members, including: AFSME (American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees); Teamsters supervisory unit; Teamsters public safety; and personal service contract members.

“Every few years we go through the contracts for our city employees, our supervisors, and I can tell you, unequivocally, that we have probably the best folks that do their jobs every day without complaint,” said Hollister. “I’m glad when we can sit down and kind of help all these folks out because they do a tremendous job. We have public safety that wear three hats (providing police, fire, and ambulance services) every single day … they are absolutely top notch. Our DPW (Department of Public Works), they do so much with so little that you just wonder how they get everything done every day.

We have some great folks here in our county and I’m glad they work for us,” he added. “Every little thing that we can do for them – I’m happy to do it.”

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