2017-03-15 / Front Page

Worth sewer cost nearly doubles

Township trying to lower $40M tab
BY ERIC LEVINE
810-452-2689 • elevine@mihomepaper.com


Phil Essenmacher Phil Essenmacher WORTH TWP. — Township and federal officials are attempting to lower the cost of the proposed sewer project that has soared with county and state requirements and higher than anticipated construction bids.

“The project budget is estimated to be $40,232,719,” said Sanilac County Administrator Kathy Dorman, who reported the figure to the county Board of Public Works last week.

But the long-term federal loan that would pay for the project is only for $23 million, according to township Supervisor Phil Essenmacher.

The municipal sewer project is mandated by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to stop sewage flow into Lake Huron from private septic systems.

Essenmacher said the township is working with state-level officials of U.S. Department of Agriculture, the lending agency, to try to convince the county road commission and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to reconsider requirements that have driven up expenses by millions of dollars.

The road commission’s policy requires bringing in sand to backfill construction sites rather than reusing native soil, which hikes the cost by about $2 million, while the DEQ’s requirement for a larger sewage lagoon system based on their sewage flow projections pushes the price tag even higher, Essenmacher said.

“We had no choice but to redesign (the lagoon to handle) 70 (gallons per capita),” Essenmacher said.

The redesign added another $4 million to $6 million to the project, he said.

Construction bids that were opened last month only piled on the bad news, when the bids put the project at $33 million.

Essenmacher said the engineers had warned the bids could be higher than anticipated because of a turnaround in the economy.

He pointed out the township has not awarded any construction contracts to date, and may decide to rebid the project.

The latest budget estimate of around $40 million includes construction bids, a 5 percent construction contingency, repayment of the county’s bond anticipation note, engineering costs and costs of issuing the bonds, according to Dorman.

“At this point, the project is in the USDA’s hands,” said Essenmacher, referring to efforts to change the road commission’s and DEQ’s requirements, and seek additional federal money based on the township’s poverty level.

The DEQ has indicated grant money is available to offset the increased cost of the lagoon, “but hasn’t come to the table with any figures,” he said.

While the township and USDA work on expenses, the clock is ticking for construction to begin.

The township is under a court-ordered deadline to break ground by April 1 on the sewer system that would run approximately three and a half miles along the M-25 corridor, from Chippewa Trail south to Galbraith Line, including lakeshore subdivisions.

“It’s not going to happen,” said Essenmacher.

Township attorney Gregory Stremers will seek a waiver on the start date from the Michigan Attorney General, he said.

“The issue isn’t so much getting the rest of the money,” said Essenmacher. “What we have to do is make it affordable. We can’t move forward if it’s not tenable. That’s what we’ll be doing. To get it down to an affordable cost.”

Because at $40 million, the project “looks pretty grim,” John Hoffmann, chairman of the Sanilac County Board of Commissioners, told the board of public works.

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