TRAVERSE CITY — Millions in loan money could fund the repair of a faltering river wall and the relocation of a large sewer main perched on its foundation.

Traverse City qualified for the first year of its five-year plan to borrow up to $27.5 million in Clean Water State Revolving Fund loans, city Municipal Utilities Director Art Krueger said. That means the city should get up to $2.8 million for the project that would relocate the main between Union and Cass streets.

“There’s only room to do that in the first block between Union and Cass,” Krueger said. “The sewer is likely going to need to stay on the wall between Cass and Park streets.”

The plan there is to build a sheet pile wall underwater and in front of the current wall’s footing, then use mortar material to fill in the void created by water undercutting the footing between Cass and Park streets.

River currents and surging Lake Michigan waters undercut the wall along the Boardman River between Union and Park streets, as previously reported. That could pose a danger to the major sewer main that sits atop the footing, should the footing shift and damage the pipe.

There’s no firm timeline on when the work would begin, Krueger said. The city is still working with consultants on a design for the relocation.

And plans for the river wall between Union and Cass streets aren’t final, Krueger said. They’re one part of the Lower Boardman River Unified Plan, which the city Downtown Development Authority has nearly completed.

Jean Derenzy, DDA CEO, said the plan so far is to remove the river wall in that block, along with some parking spaces, and create more of a plaza setting. The subcommittee working on the plan for the river between Boardman Lake and Lake Michigan aims to be done by November, and present it to the DDA board that month or December.

Engineering and design plans for the Cass-to-Union block are expected to start in early 2022, Derenzy said. It’s another chance to give feedback on the idea.

Derenzy said removing the parking spaces there would be part of an overall strategy to better use land currently occupied by surface parking, including redeveloping some other lots around the downtown. That strategy calls for handling parking with a ramp in the downtown’s west end — currently on hold as the city and DDA identify ways to pay for it.

“It can’t be one without the other, to get to a better place we know we need to be able to stack those cars and use our land better,” she said.


Within the city’s five-year Clean Water State Revolving Fund plan is $14.5 million to overhaul the Traverse City Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant’s pretreatment steps, Krueger said.

One aspect would be to build new settlement tanks, which would remove the need for a massive piece of plumbing called the primary header, Krueger said. Age compounded by corrosive hydrogen sulfide gas has deteriorated the primary header, and if it were to leak, it could damage electrical equipment in the pipe gallery that houses it.

Krueger said the city is pursuing an option to wrap the primary header in an epoxy coating for about $120,000. That should buy around three to five years of time to plan either its replacement — at roughly $500,000 — or the projects to make it unnecessary.

“So it’s significantly more to replace it, and then if we replaced it we might not end up needing it in a few years, so then that’s not a good, wise investment,” he said. “So we’re leaning toward this more temporary fix in the near term.”

The state Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, which administers the revolving fund, reviews projects and determines eligibility each year, Krueger said. So it’s possible the city might not qualify for a loan for other years of its five-year plan.

That would mean the city would have to borrow by issuing municipal bonds to fund the work, which would carry a higher interest rate, Krueger said. Higher interest rates would translate to larger rate increases for customers.

Traverse City could also borrow up to $14.7 million for a five-year plan to update the city’s drinking water treatment plant and distribution system, Krueger said. He’s still waiting to find out if the city will qualify for the first year of that plan.

Projects would include several upgrades at the treatment plant, including all new valves, new electrical switch gears, and improvements to the Wayne Hill booster station, Krueger said.

The loans would also replace all galvanized steel service lines that may have been connected to water mains with lead goosenecks, Krueger said.

Recent changes to the state’s lead and copper rule, made in the wake of the Flint water crisis, treat these pipes like lead because lead particles may have settled into their interiors, as previously reported.

Krueger said contractors have found these galvanized steel service lines while replacing the city’s water meters, and so far about 14 percent of the city’s roughly 7,400 service lines need replacing.


Krueger told city commissioners about the loans during a larger update on major progress on the city’s Capital Improvement Program to-do list.

The city will spend nearly $32 million on infrastructure projects in 2021, including $24 million of current ones, city Engineer Tim Lodge told commissioners. The city typically spends $4-6 million in a given year.

Highlights include work on four bridges — new decks for Eighth and Park street bridges, an overhaul for the South Cass Street Bridge and total replacement for the West Front Street Bridge, Lodge said. And the city with grant funding from The Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay is replacing three culverts on Sixth Avenue and Cedar Street.

The city also completed a Michigan Department of Transportation-funded roundabout at Parsons and Airport Access roads, the last year of a multi-year sidewalk improvement project, and even more walkways for Safe Routes to School, Lodge said. And construction is underway on the last leg of the Boardman Lake Trail, from Northwestern Michigan College’s University Center to Medalie Park.


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