By Sue Moore
The village council was presented with the possibility of hooking up with a proposed sewer system for south Kalamazoo County at its January 4 meeting. Although Vicksburg’s sanitary sewer system is connected to the city of Kalamazoo’s waste water treatment plant, the village was asked to consider a change.
The possibility of joining with the service areas interested in building their own treatment plant somewhere south along U.S. 131 corridor is part of a plan that has been discussed in 2015 by other area governmental units. Alan Smaka of Wightman & Associates and Rich Pierson, and Cindy Chapman of the South County Sewer and Water Authority presented the proposal in depth.
“Do you want to investigate further?” Smaka asked the council. “This could be the framework for future growth where you could control your own destiny.” “The village is in the driver’s seat,” Pierson said.
“The village could maintain its current fees but there are other costs that a grant is going to dictate. The authority rates are higher than what Vicksburg is charging now but you are going to have expenses to fix your infrastructure that is not factored into what you are currently charging,” Pierson said.
The debt structure on the village’s new pumping station is built into the new operating and maintenance budget in the Wightman proposal, the Council was told. If the village chooses to join in, it would participate on a percentage of the total costs, based upon the number of users. All of the costs would go into the same bucket and divided out equally, with the exception of the assets the village has already constructed and paid for. New hookups would cost what others in the service area are charged, not what the village charges now.
The key drivers are a cap on the amount of flow the authority can deliver to the Kalamazoo treatment plant. This agreement services Pickerel and Indian Lake and a small section of Long Lake. It is authorized to send 446,000 gallons a day with a contract that expires this year. Vicksburg, however, is on a year-to-year contract with a 300,000-gallon capacity going through the pipeline in Portage to get to the Kalamazoo plant. “This plan gives us an alternative,” Pierson said. “Kalamazoo has plenty of capacity but there will be a long-term cost for pipes and pumps for the village that is not now included in the rate schedule.”
Smaka explained that the potential costs of a new system are predicated on no grants and no growth. This means higher costs for those who do not have sewers now and creates a lot of the opposition to the project, he acknowledged. His firm has submitted a pre-application grant proposal to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to fund up to 45 percent of the costs in loans and grants. “We are seeking a letter of eligibility from a pool of funds that is set aside by the federal government to help rural areas get better lending rates. The application takes the whole proposed area into its request, but it doesn’t obligate any of the governmental units to join. “It’s easier to be all-inclusive in the beginning and later take out non-participants than to keep adding them later,” Smaka said.
It will take four or five months for the USDA to consider the application, Smaka said. In the meantime, Sugar Loaf Lake seems to be in agreement, Schoolcraft village has said no, the U.S. 131 corridor is considering it, and the Barton Lake Association has said no to the project. He has also had some interest from homeowners on Sunset Lake whose properties are outside of the village.