12 9 GRSD Plant

The Galien River Sanitary District wastewater treatment plant in New Buffalo Township.

THREE OAKS — The results of a Wastewater Treatment Feasibility Study presented to the Three Oaks Village Council on Dec. 2 poured over $11 million worth of cold water on the idea of connecting the village to the Galien River Sanitary District facility in New Buffalo Township.

But the community’s other option, making upgrades and improvements to the existing lagoon-based wastewater treatment system, comes with a lower price tag.

“The goals of this Feasibility Study were to resolve the outstanding issues with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) … and to “identify the feasibility of the GRSD authority connection,” said Mary Nykamp, a Process Group Manager for Wightman & Associates.

She said issues at the village’s wastewater treatment lagoon site have been documented as far back as May 2015 with a first violation notice.

“A total of five violation notices have been received to date, and those have addressed various issues – it’s not the same violation notice again and again,” Nykamp said.

She said a draft administrative consent order from EGLE showed up on March 30, 2021. Past studies of the village wastewater treatment system have included a wastewater characterization study in 2018, an industrial pre-treatment program (IPP) review in 2018, and a wastewater treatment capacity study in 2019. Nykamp said they have and plan to continue to utilize those studies going forward.

“The needs of the village as we see them are cost-effective wastewater treatment … it needs to be reliable and we need sufficient capacity for now and for our future needs.”

Wightman Senior Civil Engineer Andrew Rudd said GRSD officials seemed receptive to a connection with Three Oaks, but their engineer’s review discovered that the existing treatment plant does not have sufficient capacity to accommodate the village flow.

Nykamp noted that the GRSD has a hydraulic problem with stormwater and groundwater entering their system as a result of storm events.

In the portion of the Feasibility Study dedicated to the alternative of connecting to the GRSD authority it was reported that significant capital improvements to the treatment facility would be required to accommodate the amount of wastewater anticipated from Three Oaks – at an estimated cost of $5,360,000. Additional estimated costs including lagoon decommissioning ($1,775,500) and a transmission force main running four miles along U.S. 12 almost to I-94 ($1,729,024) bring the total to an estimated $11,088,000.

Rudd noted that the cost “is clearly a large hurdle,” later saying exploration of possible grants could reach $3.5 million, but that’s just not enough.

Estimates for making improvements to the village’s wastewater lagoons and other parts of the existing treatment system in the Feasibility Study such as installing an aeration system to increase capacity ($560,000), air supply piping and associated site work ($113,290) and screening ($348,000) total $2,493,000. Bank erosion repair, lift station repair, minor sludge removal and equipment replacement also are listed in the study report.

The possibility of having to install a more extensive new clay liner in portions of the lagoon system could add more expense to the project. Although Rudd said the hope is correcting erosion at all three ponds (which could cost $300,000 to $400,000) will be sufficient to satisfy the state.

Rudd said the overall cost is estimated at $2.5 to $3 million if the lagoons don’t have to be re-lined (with an extra $1 million-plus if the re-lining is needed).

Nykamp said the state calls for about 200 parts per million of Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) in wastewater being treated, and adding air can help the microorganisms that digest solids in the wastewater do their work and reach such BOD levels.

Samples from the fall indicate the system is performing well and flowing less than 320,000 gallons per day, although it’s still not where the state would like it to be.

Rudd said there is room for some commercial growth with the lagoon system, but larger commercial customers such as marijuana grow will have to have some sort of a holding tank system and IPP programs if they (according to Nykamp) discharge more that 300 BOD.

Village Council member Becky Thomas said the village already has raised sewer rates, and Village Manager Dan Faulkner said those additional revenues are going into the fund balance.

Council member Steve Graziano said it seems that upgrading the local system is the only viable option, noting that there already is money in the fund balance to use toward the project and more will accumulate while a bond expires next year. He said it would be great if the village didn’t have to raise the amounts being charged to its residents.

“You guys are in a lot better position than 90 percent of the communities out there right now financially, and it could be that we find a way to not impact rates,” Rudd said.

Rudd and Nykamp also provided requests from EGLE involving whether the Village plans to accept non-domestic and/or industrial discharges, and if yes, that they acknowledge requirements for a permit modification, development of an IPP, and the addition of advanced treatment systems.

Nykamp said a state-issued general permit for a wastewater treatment system does not allow non-domestic customers, so the village would have to apply for an individual permit if it accepts such customers.

The Village Council also discussed and approved setting up a $21,024 high-strength wastewater customer investigation testing program involving a series of nine manhole sampling stations along the sewer lines in the village to see if any large inflows are located.

Although the state wants results of such a study showing which users are “high strength” as soon as possible, council members noted that December and January are slow times of the year when some businesses are closed.

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