BENZONIA — The Village of Benzonia will steam ahead with improvements to its water system after securing a grant and a low-interest loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
A $1.375 million grant has been awarded for new water mains along U.S. 31, a new well and water meters that can detect if a homeowner’s toilet is running.
A $945,000 loan from the USDA will be used to make a required 40 percent match and will be paid back over the next 40 years.
There are 214 households and 58 businesses on the water system.
About a mile of undersized water mains along U.S. 31 will be replaced with larger mains, said Tim Flynn, village president. About another quarter-mile of mains will be replaced on North Street and the water tower is getting a fresh coat of paint.
Water meters will be replaced with a radio-read system in which meters do not have to be read manually, as they are now. The system can detect leaks and running toilets by the amount of water used. The cost of the new system is $250,000, Flynn said.
A well that is 73 years old will be replaced, as the life expectancy of a well is about 50 years, Flynn said.
“We’ve been kind of living on borrowed time with that well,” he said.
The water mains are being replaced at the same time as a total road reconstruction and sidewalk project along the highway being done by the Michigan Department of Transportation. The village will seek another state grant to add lights, benches and trees to make the village pedestrian-friendly.
“Rather than digging everything up twice we got right on this project to apply for the USDA grant,” Flynn said.
Sue Webber is the owner of Webber Insurance, which is located in the construction zone.
“I’m excited about it,” Webber said. “It’s going to be an improvement to the area.”
It’s also a safety issue, she said.
“I’ve watched people walk on the edge of the road,” Webber said. “Some of them are walking with children, some have difficulty walking. It could be any day that an accident could happen.”
Webber said she plans to make arrangements for her customers to park on a side street and walk to the office during construction.
The project is not being prompted by lead in the pipes, Flynn said. The lead lines to homes have been replaced over the years and there are not many left, he said. The water is tested for lead about every six months and none has ever been detected, he said.
The village also has had no PFAS detected in its water, he said.
Cory Carlton is the owner of Crystal Falls Mini Golf & Ice Cream Shop on U.S. 31, a seasonal business that is open from Memorial weekend to Labor Day. He expects things will be slow next year during construction.
“It’s a lot of work that they’re planning,” Carlton said. “I’m sure it will affect our business.”
On the other hand, he said, the work is sorely needed.
“The road is awful,” he said. It’s very bumpy. We’ve got to do something about it.”
Adding sidewalks may increase foot traffic to the shop, or at least make it safer, he said.
“It would be nice to see them not have to walk down the side of the road.”
Fleis & VandenBrink Engineering is the general contractor on the project, which will be bid out this fall.
Flynn said the village was fortunate to get such a large grant, especially when smaller communities struggle to pay for needed upgrades to water and sewer systems.
“Some communities can’t do their infrastructure projects without assistance,” Flynn said. “If we were to take on all this debt ourselves no one would be able to live here. We would tax them right out of the village.”
Village water customers are billed quarterly. Rates were recently increased to $4 from $3.50 for every 1,000 gallons of water used. A quarterly usage fee was increased about $3 to $52.50. That fee may go up again by $1 or $2, Flynn said.
Water bills more than doubled for water customers in the neighboring Village of Beulah to pay for a new water tank and about 9,000 feet of water mains installed last year at a cost of nearly $4 million. The project is being paid for through a 40-year USDA loan.
Customers there pay water rates of about $8 per 1,000 gallons and a quarterly usage fee of about $90.