THREE OAKS — Three Oaks is waiting on state regulators to sign off on planned upgrades to its wastewater treatment system.

The approval is needed before the village can seek federal grants and loans to help tackle the estimated $1.25 million project. Village Manager Mike Greene said the U.S. Department of Agriculture could cover up to 40 percent of the project through its rural development program.

The Village Council in late October unanimously approved the “moderate” plan for upgrades after several months of discussion.

Consulting engineers Brian Hannon and Jacob Bruggink of the firm Moore & Bruggink said the plan accepted by the council will handle domestic and industrial waste and future growth – plus a 20 percent safety factor to handle peak periods.

Other plans ranged from “do nothing” to a full treatment expansion project, costing more than $3 million, which was not recommended.

Construction on the upgrades and increased aeration system at the treatment lagoons is not expected to start until at least August 2019, Greene said.

Documents submitted to MDEQ will include an Industrial Pretreatment Plan, which includes local limits on discharge levels and fees for permits for commercial customers. Since August, the village has been working under an MDEQ extension through late November to submit its IPP.

Any customer exceeding the limit of allowed biochemical oxygen demand discharge set by the village will be required to pre-treat its waste down to the limit. Greene said there are very few customers in this category.

Customers in the category, such as restaurants and bakeries, will be required to provide manhole-like access to the sewage discharge outlet to allow around-the-clock village testing. He said the village will contact commercial customers to tell them of the new limits and requirements.

Greene said residential customers may see a temporary increase in their monthly ready-to-serve charge of $6 to $9 until the existing sewer bond is repaid in 2023.

The wastewater issue has been in the village spotlight since last spring when tests showed the existing three-lagoon system is handling four- to five-times higher concentrations of waste than the average domestic waste for which it was designed. Journeyman Distillery was named as a contributor to the high levels.

Journeyman was subsequently issued a cease-and-desist order to stop discharging into the village system and has been paying to haul its waste to a distant treatment plant. Testing since then, without Journeyman’s waste, has still shown excessive limits of biochemical oxygen demand discharge.

Journeyman owner Bill Welter has said he would welcome the IPP because he needs to know the discharge limits allowed by the village in order to make his business plans. He said he felt somewhat vindicated that recent test results bore out his assertion that Journeyman wasn’t the sole cause of the village’s sewage treatment woes.