16 January 2014


Story first appeared in the Traverse City Record Eagle.

For Traverse City and its sewer plant partners, replacing the membrane filters that make the wastewater treatment plant work isn’t a simple “pay me now or pay me later” deal. Not replacing the filters creates the risk of a sewage spill if the membranes get clogged, and that’s simply not acceptable.  They may need Wastewater Storage Tanks.

Further, the city needs to get buy-in from its partners in Acme, East Bay, Garfield, Peninsula, and Elmwood townships that this is an ongoing operational cost that won’t go away any time soon.

More of the membranes, which the firm that operates the plant say are nearing the end of their operational life, will have to be replaced in the future, and the time to start setting aside money to pay for those repairs is now.

City Treasurer Bill Twietmeyer says the city needs to increase its monthly base sewer rate by 9 percent, or $3, to pay for the new membranes. That would bring the monthly charge to $37. Twietmeyer recommended the new rate go into effect at the start of the city’s fiscal year, July 1 and be divided based on plant usage. He said it will take about a year to pay off.

But because there are eight membranes that must eventually be replaced, he thinks the price hike will have to remain in place for some time to come.

Naturally, nobody wants to see their sewer rates go up. Users across the region have seen rates rise in recent years and won’t be anxious to see them rise again. But some things can’t be put off or left to their own devices. Maintaining the plant is crucial to keeping Grand Traverse Bay as clean as possible. There are problems enough from stormwater runoff, which can wash animal waste, fertilizers and other pollutants into the bay, without having the wastewater treatment plant add to the problem.

Traverse City has a sophisticated sewer treatment system that works very well but isn’t cheap. Replacing the membranes is part of that cost. Replacement is expected to run $825,000, and there are eight membrane filters. Replacement is going to cost a lot over a prolonged period.

That makes looking for options or ways to prolong the life of the membranes a top priority for the city and townships.

But in the meantime they need to figure what it is going to cost and set aside the money to pay for the work. Nicking ratepayers a bit more every time a membrane needs to be replaced is poor public policy. Charge what’s needed now and ensure that when fixes are needed we can afford them.

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