2016-10-20 / Front Page

Board Questions Pipe Replacement

MDOT Suggests Upgrading Old Lines During Road Work in St. Ignace Township
By Stephanie Fortino


A nearly mile-long section of the I-75 business loop from South Airport Road to Mackinac Lane in Evergreen Shores (shown shaded in gray) is scheduled to be rebuilt next summer by the Michigan Department of Transportation. The St. Ignace Township Board of Trustees, however, has raised concerns over the costs of updating the water lines under the road, but will postpone any decisions until after the November 8 election. (Michigan Department of Transportation map) A nearly mile-long section of the I-75 business loop from South Airport Road to Mackinac Lane in Evergreen Shores (shown shaded in gray) is scheduled to be rebuilt next summer by the Michigan Department of Transportation. The St. Ignace Township Board of Trustees, however, has raised concerns over the costs of updating the water lines under the road, but will postpone any decisions until after the November 8 election. (Michigan Department of Transportation map) Nearly a mile of I-75 business loop in St. Ignace Township, from about 100 feet south of Airport Road to about 50 feet north of Mackinac Lane, will be repaved next summer by the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT). The road will be completely rebuilt, making it the opportune time to repair utility lines underneath it. Four to six water main crossings in Evergreen Shores could be replaced, according to the City of St. Ignace, which owns the water lines. But the St. Ignace Township board has concerns over the cost of the project, which would be passed on to the 191 water customers in the area.

The road project has been discussed for more than a year and the roadwork will be funded by MDOT. Earlier, the plan included a proposed lane reduction from four lanes to three lanes to accommodate bicycle paths, but that plan was scrapped earlier this year after the township objected to the configuration. Even without the bicycle lanes, the roadwork has always been planned to continue, according to MDOT, but the project could be delayed to accommodate solutions for township funding, MDOT Communications Representative Dan Weingarten told The St. Ignace News.

The City of St. Ignace owns the water lines in St. Ignace Township. At the township board meeting Wednesday, October 12, city manager and Department of Public Works director Les Therrian explained the project.

The water mains are buried only about five feet deep. Since the road would be dug down about four feet deep for rebuilding, the pipes could be damaged during the road construction. The pipes are made of cast iron from the 1960s, which are likely to be brittle and could crack under the pressure of the roadwork.

In the project, the lines would be buried eight feet deep and replaced with ductile iron pipe, which is more elastic and can take the pressure, Mr. Therrian said.

If a break occurs on the line now, it would be difficult to pinpoint, he added, because the line is buried in a casing.

“It would be a nightmare to try to fix it,” he said.

About 150 feet of pipe needs to be replaced. There have been about 20 breaks in that section of the water lines in the past 30 years.

The water lines will have to be updated eventually, Mr. Therrian said, and MDOT would like the replacement to be made now. MDOT is only suggesting that utility work be done when the road is being rebuilt, Mr. Weingarten said, to prevent the finished road from having to be torn up in the near future.

“We are not requiring that the water work be done,” he told The St. Ignace News, “but from our perspective, it makes sense to do the work while the road is torn up.”

When the road is rebuilt, the drainage system will be updated and new storm water catch basins and ditches will be installed.

Wednesday evening, township board members questioned whether the roadwork is needed.

Mr. Weingarten said it is.

“MDOT’s reconstruction project is based on the condition of the roadway,” he noted. ‘It’s designed to improve the pavement surface and make drainage improvements.”

How Much Will It Cost? And Who Will Pay?

In late September, St. Ignace Township Supervisor Dale Nelson met with Mr. Therrian and representatives from MDOT to discuss the project. But it wasn’t until the township board meeting October 12 that funding the project was discussed, and it was then the township board learned it would have to pay for improvements to the water system.

Following the Tuesday, November 8, election, an entirely new township board will be elected and they should make the decisions about the project, Mr. Nelson said. The board agreed and tabled the matter until after the election and for further information.

The water main crosses the road at least four times, and perhaps up to six times, Mr. Therrian said. The project could cost between $400,000 and $600,000 total, at about $100,000 per crossing. Because the water lines in the township are owned by the city, the state considers the city a private utility company, meaning the city can’t get state grants to pay for the work.

“[The city is] in essence a private utility because these water mains are in the township. The utility is responsible for the work on the water main,” said Mr. Weingarten, “and they would typically pass along those costs to the township through whatever funding formula they use.”

The city will pass the costs on to the township and the 191 of water users in Evergreen Shores. Mr. Therrian said a special tax assessment or increased water bills for those customers could be used to pay for the project. Although the total cost of the project won’t be known until next year when it is put out to bids, Mr. Therrian estimated costs could increase up to $10 to $20 per equivalency dwelling unit (EDU) a month per user to pay for the project. There are 240 EDUs in Evergreen Shores for the 191 customers.

But the residents in Evergreen Shores cannot bear the cost of the water main replacements, members of the township board said.

“Evergreen Shores couldn’t absorb it,” said township Trustee Don Schairer.

Trustee Steve Campbell, who is running unopposed for supervisor November 8, agreed, saying, “This was sprung upon us overnight.” He suggested the project be delayed until 2018, and suggested the board table it until it has more information on funding options.

The road reconstruction could be delayed to accommodate the funding questions, Mr. Weingarten told The St. Ignace News. About half the road project is also located in the City of St. Ignace, and MDOT will continue working closely with both the city and township.

“The plans for the road project are moving forward,” Mr. Weingarten said. “We anticipate completing the work during the 2017 construction season. MDOT will continue to talk with the City of St. Ignace to reach a consensus on planning for the water main work. If funding for the water main work is not available, MDOT will consider re-evaluating the timing of the road work in order to accommodate the wishes of the city.”

If the township can’t apply for state grants to replace the water main crossings because they don’t own the water lines, township Treasurer Cheryl Schairer wondered whether the township could buy the water lines back to qualify for grants. Township Clerk Donna Harju pointed out the township sold the system to the city for $1 in 1982.

Mr. Therrian said neighboring Moran Township owns its water lines, but pays about 70% more for city water than residents in the city and St. Ignace Township.

The city also wants to include the water main crossing repairs with MDOT’s bidding of the project, which could lower costs, Mr. Therrian said. October 12, he asked the township board to pay $30,000 to engineer C2AE to design the new water main crossings so the specifications could be included in the MDOT bid. The board also tabled that request until after the November election.

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