Traverse City Record-Eagle

January 15, 2014

Officials OK upgrade, balk at sewer rate increase

By BRIAN McGILLIVARY bmcgillivary@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — City commissioners agreed to a recommended $825,000 membrane filter replacement at the city’s sewage treatment plant, but aren’t yet sold on a rate hike to pay for it.

Commissioners debated the economics of replacing an existing bank of filter membranes with a newer, more expensive model during a Monday meeting. Commissioner Jim Carruthers opposed the plan. Commissioners Tim Werner and Ross Richardson also questioned the need to upgrade from C model membranes to newer D models, but said in the end the price difference of $50,000 didn’t justify going against the experts’ recommendation.

“I’m not sure exactly why we are being pushed into the Ds, but for the small variance of money I’m not going to argue the point,” Richardson said.

The treatment plant is equipped with eight tanks that hold multiple cartridges of filtering membranes that are close to the projected end of their useful life, but could last another four or five years. Occasionally, the filters clog with a bacteria unique to the plant. Officials from plant operator CH2M Hill suspect the problem stems from the plant’s unique biology, but don’t know if membrane age is a contributing factor.

Operators are concerned that if the bacteria clogging occurs during a time of peak flows, sewage will back up and overflow into the surrounding area that includes Boardman Lake and Boardman River.

Plant operators want to replace the membranes in one tank with the newer membranes that have both operational efficiencies and a longer lifespan. The existing membranes would be installed in open slots in the remaining tanks, creating a larger filtering area and reducing the likelihood of an overflow.

The membrane manufacturing company also put the city on notice it plans to discontinue production of the C model within three years, so the city will have no choice but to install the newer models in the remaining tanks.

Carruthers argued the C model has worked well and he opposed spending extra money on the newer model.

Commissioner Jeanine Easterday said the city shouldn’t skimp on sewage plant equipment.

“If we choose to go on the cheap, you will suffer from going to the cheap,” Easterday said. “You will put off the inevitable.”

Commissioners did not make a decision on how to pay for the membrane replacement that they expect to split with the five metro townships that share the plant.

Richardson opposed Treasurer Bill Twietmeyer’s recommendation to consider raising monthly sewer rates by $3 when the commission addresses its budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

“My personal opinion is we’ve raised rates on sewer service a lot in the last four or five years and we should learn to live within that,” Richardson said.

Mayor Michael Estes said there are alternatives worth exploring.

“I agree a rate increase is a potential, but there are other means,” Estes said.