BENTON HARBOR — Almost 2.7 miles of sanitary sewer lines in Benton Harbor will be replaced if the city is awarded $19.9 million from Michigan’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund.
The CWSRF usually gives out low interest loans, said Elaine Venema, a project engineer with Fleis and VandenBrink Engineering, the company contracted by the city to run the water plant and water distribution system.
However, she told commissioners Monday that for the next couple of years, the state is giving out more grants because it needs to spend down federal money from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal and the American Rescue Plan Act.
“We’re trying to capture that money before it goes back to just low interest loans because you guys and many communities across the state really need that grant money,” Venema said.
The money needs to be allocated by the end of 2024 and spent by the end of 2026.
City commissioners on Monday approved paying F&V $42,000 to complete a required project plan by the May 1 deadline so the state can consider the application.
Sewer lines targeted to be replaced were identified as being in poor condition by the city’s Stormwater, Asset Management, and Wastewater (SAW) Asset Management Plan and Capital Improvements Plan.
The proposed plan also calls for upgrades to more than 10 of the city’s lift stations, replacement of a cracked sanitary sewer line between Territorial Road and a new manhole in the ravine.
Although the city received $45 million from the state to finish replacing lead water service lines and make upgrades to the water plant, Venema said more is needed for long-term projects.
She said $27 million was left over after the lead water service lines were removed.
“That (money) went to replace some really necessary valves and some controls at the water treatment plant and then some additional distribution items – some hydrants that needed to get replaced,” she said.
Water consultant John Young told city commissioners their first priority was to take care of public health and safety, which they did when they focused on replacing the city’s lead water service lines.
“What you’ve done is you’ve properly prioritized where money has been spent,” Young said. “The money that we’re now spending is more for making things reliable.”
Young recommended city commissioners ask the state legislature for at least $3 million per year for the next 10 years to help fund the water plant, while the city puts a financial assistance program in place for the residents and looks for more customers.
The Benton Harbor water plant lost about 3,500 customers in Benton Township in 2011, after the township built its own water plant. It lost another 1,500 St. Joseph Township customers on the east side of St. Joseph River in 2013.
Both instances occurred while the city was under state-mandated emergency managers from April 2010 to March 2014.
In addition, Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad alleged the emergency managers sold some of the city’s water lines to Benton Township, meaning the city lost many of its biggest water users.
“I would like to know, and I’ve said this before – How much revenue has the city of Benton Harbor lost since the emergency managers severed the contracts?” Muhammad said.
He said a lot of “skulduggery” happened in the past, but he wants to move forward and maintain the positive relationship the city has with state and federal officials.
“I don’t want to throw that in the present administration’s face because Gov. (Gretchen) Whitmer is doing a lot of clean up of what was done, especially in urban communities, from the previous administration,” he said.