By Sue Moore
Who is the South County Sewer and Water Authority (SCSWA)? According to its web site, it is “an enterprise operating solely on revenues derived from its customers through user rate charges” to collect sewage from member communities and transport it for treatment.
Right now it is squarely in the sights of residents who either want sewers or feel they have no need for them.
Its board includes elected township supervisors from Pavilion, Brady and Schoolcraft townships, plus the presidents of the villages of Vicksburg and Schoolcraft. Until recently, their job has been to oversee the construction and maintenance of the sewers around south Long Lake, Indian and Pickerel lakes. Vicksburg just joined in June so it could have a seat at the table as the Authority considers new improvements and expansion, according to Village Manager Ken Schippers.
The Authority has two staff members, Cindy Chapman and Rich Pierson, who have an office in the Pavilion Township hall.
In the new proposal, the authority would build and operate its own treatment plant somewhere close to US 131, according to Alan Smaka, the project engineer for Wightman & Associates. The waste from all four entities that currently have sewer systems now is transported by pipelines through Portage to the Kalamazoo Sewer Treatment plant.
Sewers and sewage treatment are a major factor in improving public health. Many grants were made available by the federal government and state governments in the 1970s for improvements in urban and rural areas. Nowadays, sewers are also seen as an important tool in the economic development playbook of many communities along with all the environmental and public health impacts they bring, said Smaka.
Federal programs with 70 percent-plus grant funds have gone away, he explained. But there is still a loan-grant program available through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development which the Authority could apply for to make costs more palatable. Smaka didn’t apply any of the grant and loan possibilities into cost estimates, though he pointed out that his estimates have been very conservative. However, it is expensive to put together these applications, so it is important to determine exactly what areas would want to participate, Smaka said.
He presented the baseline budget numbers to the Authority’s board in June with cost estimates for several different service area alternatives. All of these background pieces are available on the Wightman & Associates web site for anyone to view (http://www.wightman-assoc.com/special-project-scswa).
The calculations for the treatment plant’s capacity allow for a five-percent growth rate for each area that comes into the authority’s sewage service area. The proposed treatment plant size ranges from approximately 500,000 to 1.2 million gallons per day. Growth was, however, not factored into the financial analysis of the study. The engineering firm is planning a surface water discharge plant that would remove solid and soluble pollutants before being released downriver.
The decisions to be made aren’t just financial.
It would be an advantage to the South County region to control its own destiny, Smaka told residents of the Barton Lake area during their deliberations.
Smaka advised there are several other factors the SCSWA region will need to weigh in determining whether building and operating its own facility and withdrawing from the Kalamazoo system is the right fit. That’s not new thinking for the Authority. It has been in and out of discussions and a lawsuit with the City of Kalamazoo over its rate structure for decades.