$20M drinking water infrastructure project moving forward

ISHPEMING — Ishpeming residents could see improved water services in the next couple of years.

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund for the fiscal year 2024 will allow the city to repair or replace water infrastructure. Half of the project funding is as a grant and the remainder is as a low-interest, 2% loan.

“Our residents and business owners voiced their support to the state during the public comment period having a direct impact on the city scoring in the fundable range for this significant and very competitive funding which will improve our infrastructure,” City Manager Craig Cugini said in a press release. “The notice that went out statewide even called out the volume of comments from our community in the state’s decision to score Ishpeming into fundable range for the project. We want to thank those who sent comments in and celebrate what can happen when we unite our voices.”

Funding consists of nearly $10 million in grant proceeds through the American Rescue Plan and a nearly $10 million loan from EGLE through federal DWSRF funding. Additional funding will include $170,000 for lead service line costs, $86,700 from a Bipartisan Infrastructure Law DWSRF LSLR loan and $83,300 in principal forgiveness.

According to the city’s press release, the BIL LSLR funds must be used for lead service line replacement work and associated activities directly connected to the identification, planning, design and replacement of lead service lines.

The proposed project should make “meaningful progress” on outstanding infrastructure needs, such as the replacement of portions of the water distribution system. According to the city’s press release, this system is “deteriorated and undersized.”

“These proposed improvements will impact the water quality by replacing water mains that have historically leaked causing interruptions to the water distribution system and potential water quality issues with water shutdowns and depressurizing the main line,” the city’s press release said.

By replacing these mains, approximately 39,000 feet of undersized galvanized water main is slated for removal and replacement.

The city will require contractors to adhere to its “dig once” policy. According to the city’s press release, this will allow any other necessary underground work to be performed at the same time to prevent cutting through pavement and dirt multiple times.

Officials say the exact project scope will be determined within the next 4-6 months, intended for drinking water infrastructure improvements.

“Professional engineers remain engaged to bring the conceptual scope in the grant application to a final design for submission to the state and final approval to proceed,” the city’s press release said. “Surveying of existing water lines to validate their condition, location and environmental assessment which must be incorporated into the final plans is part of the process.”

This will also help decide which water lines within the city will be targeted through this funding.

At a special meeting on Wednesday, Councilor Pat Scanlon made a motion to award the engineering services contract to U.P. Engineers & Architects.

“They are probably the most knowledgable,” Scanlon said. “They’re in our own city and they’ve been very good for our city.”

The council also discussed the city’s proposed 2024 budget during the meeting.

Some budget highlights include:

≤ Public Improvement Fund will cover a $200,000 city hall Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant ramp replacement.

≤ $100,000 for alley and lot associated improvements.

≤ $110,000 for repairs to the Al Quaal Lodge rentals roof.

≤ $10,000 for the addition of an ADA-compliant restroom at Al Quaal.

≤ $300,000 set aside to repair problem sections of roadways in the city.

≤ The city’s water and sewer meter replacement Project is ongoing for the installation of radio read meters for more accurate billing.

≤ Motor pool funding is confirmed for a new sidewalk snow plow which will be better suited for downtown.

Councilors also discussed employee insurance premium shares and a proposed cut to the library budget.

Public Act 152 of 2011 created a new law that limits the amount that public employers pay toward employee medical benefit plans that began in January 2012, which are decided annually.

Cugini said in an email to The Mining Journal that by opting out, the city could make a decision regarding premium shares (employee contribution) from 0-20% independently. Opting in will require the city to adopt the state’s hard cap.

In the budget proposal, staff suggested the council consider a 20% employee premium share to offset approximately $40,000 to $60,000, which without premium shares included, would be an equivalent deficit, or other cuts will need to be found within the budget.

“The majority of the council indicated that employee premium shares are not something they want to be included in the final budget and directed staff to provide some alternative options for consideration,” Cugini said. “While no specific cut was discussed there were some indications that equipment might play a role in the opportunities along with other statements of reaction.”

Department of Public Works general foreman Bill Anderson said he would like to see a performance review on Siren.

“We’re talking about keeping a communications company for $100,000, yet we’re talking about making our employees pay for it (health insurance),” Anderson said. “I would like to see a cost analysis of what we’re getting from Siren. Is it really worth $100,000 and the potential of our employees paying something (more)?”

Councilor Elizabeth Firby said she believes the appropriate place for the discussion surrounding employee health insurance would be through union negotiations.

Anderson said the DPW employees have taken “numerous” pay cuts or no pay increases in order to keep their health insurance.

“That’s been the driving force on why these guys don’t make as much money … (as) other communities,” Anderson said. “They take the pay cut or the no pay raise in lieu of trying to keep their insurance. It’s a big factor in contract negotiations.”

Firby requested information regarding a proposed cut to the Ishpeming Carnegie Public Library.

Some areas focused on were:

≤ About $4,500 in a requested materials reduction.

≤ Overall budget and library director input which focused on the director’s proposal for increased staffing hours, resulting in approximately $20,000 of new salary cost and converting an employee from part-time to full-time.

The majority of the conversation revolved around ICPL being a Class IV designated facility and that several west-end townships contribute to the overall fund balance — but that may not be enough.

“It was noted that the townships have a contractual increase of 3% but that it might be time to address that the 3% doesn’t keep with inflation, as well as the increased use of the facility grew by 19% this past year,” Cugini said in an email. “The council appears to be in favor of requesting more but did not determine a final figure and requested some additional data for making this decision.”

During the meeting, Cugini said the proposed budget will remain as written. City staff will be back with “creative solutions” at the Nov. 8 meeting, as requested by councilors.

To watch Wednesday’s full meeting, visit Ishpeming’s YouTube channel at youtube.com/@cityofishpemingmi987.


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