Lift station replacement plan moving forward

Jon Kangas, manager, Chocolay Township

MARQUETTE — The Chocolay Township Board awarded the preliminary engineering work necessary to upgrade portions of its sewer system to GEI Consultants.

The proposed project lift station rehabilitation project will replace several decades-old sanitary sewer lift stations which are used for pumping wastewater from lower elevations to higher elevations.

Of the three firms that responded to the township’s request for proposals, the $227,501 GEI bid was ranked first by a review team consisting of Township Manager Jon Kangas, Supervisor Richard Bohjanen and Clerk Max Engle.

The negotiations with GEI require that maximum billings for work in 2018 not exceed the township’s budgeted amount of $80,000 for the project, according to an agenda supplement.

The $2.5 million lift station replacement project is not connected in any way to the 5-mile sanitary sewer expansion along M-28 associated with the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community’s casino expansion project, Kangas said during a Tuesday phone interview.

The timing of casino sewer expansion and the township lift station project, Kangas said, is just an inconvenient and confusing coincidence.

“The only purpose for this project is to rebuild infrastructure (originally installed in) 1975 and 1977,” Kangas said.

He said the pumps have served the township well over the last 40 years, but they have become outdated and at risk for failing.

Kangas said once the engineering work has been completed, the township will be able to devise a game plan for lift station replacement, which is expected to cost between $2.25 million and $2.5 million.

Wastewater rates are expected to rise due in part to the project, Kangas said, but the board will decide what the increase will look like during its 2019 budget deliberations.

The board, Kangas said, could raise monthly wastewater rates from $33 to $54, or could opt to increase rates just enough to pay for a 20-year $3 million dollar bond that would fund the project.

“Going from $33 to $54 a month is a pretty big jump,” Kangas said. “But they have to go up no matter what, because we don’t have adequate funds (in the sewer budget) pay for the project.”

He said the board will also decide how much to take from the current estimated $1.7 million fund balance to put toward the project after hearing advice from the engineering firm and bond counsel. But those decisions are not likely to take place until next year.

Residents wishing to weigh in on the township’s 2019 budget and fee schedule can do so during public hearings that will occur during the board’s regular meeting on Nov 12.

“If people are concerned about sewer rates, they should attend the meeting,” Kangas said. “We will have a final recommendation for the board as part of our final recommendation for the fee schedule that will be heard at the public hearing.”