By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
ALLEN PARK – The City Council authorized a year-long study by Fishbeck Engineering Nov. 24 to determine whether the calculations used by the Downriver Utility Wastewater Authority overcharges the city for excess flow.
Tom Murray, director of the Department of Public Services and Engineering, said the wet weather study, which would cost $285,000, spread over two fiscal years, would take one calendar year to complete, and has the potential to save the city an estimated $100,000 annually in overcharges by DUWA.
Murray said the purpose of the study is two-fold: To meter all the sanitary flows which end up at the DUWA plant, and to determine where the majority of the system flows are coming from, which will allow the city to make improvements which have the potential to prevent flooding during major rain events.
He said the formula which DUWA uses to determine the excess flow that Allen Park sends to its Wastewater Treatment Plant sets a fixed cost of $71,984 per month. Excess flow is the water that enters the system during weather events and by other means.
“We are confident that with all the upgrades the city has been putting into its infrastructure, this fixed cost is not reasonable,” Murray said. “Surround cities are charged a much lower fixed cost, and this study will hopefully prove that the formula DUWA is using is inaccurate and unfair.”
He said that by determining where the majority of the system flows are coming from, the city also can determine where to make improvements to help prevent flooding during major rain events.
“If we are going to put all these meters in, it helps us determine where our flows in our own system are heavier, and are we adequate,” Murray said. “This will allow us to create a better capital plan for improvements to our sanitary system in those areas.”
He said that DUWA would be likely to accept the validity of the study results, since the city of Allen Park is using one of its preferred engineering firms.
Also, in the past, when Wayne County owned the plant now operated by DUWA, it was determined that Allen Park overpaid $3 million over a span of years, and was credited for that amount.
“I don’t think that we would get reimbursed back, but I think, moving forward, it would change the way they have to look at excess flow for all of their communities,” Murray said.
Mayor Gail McLeod, who is also the chair of the DUWA board, said the members of the organization, who all represent their cities, are reasonable.
City Councilwoman Pam Sych asked if other Downriver communities are doing the same thing.
Murray said that he believes other communities will follow suit once Allen Park concludes its study.
“I feel we are going to determine we are not giving that excess flow, and other communities that do not border the river are going to start saying, ‘Why are we paying in so much, we aren’t leaching as much, either,’” he said. “I think a lot of communities are going to end up taking this on. We are spearheading it, honestly.”
Murray also noted that Allen Park owns a 7 percent share of DUWA, along with other Downriver communities.
City Manager Mark Kibby said Finance Director Bob Cady told him that the city of Taylor plans to commission a similar flow study.
“I think you are starting to see the trend here, that there is an issue we need to resolve,” Kibby said. “The only way to get that answer is you have to do the studies. We are going to spend some money to find out, but in the long run, if we can save that money, it will be worth the money we spend now, many times over.”
Currently, the city of Allen Park’s sanitary flow is served by two different systems. The northern part of the city discharges to the Great Lakes Water Authority’s northwest interceptor, which is metered for billing purposes. The rest of the city, the central and southwest portions, discharge into the DUWA system.
Another benefit of the flow study is the city will be able to optimize its system storage and reduce the possibility of sanitary sewage overflows.
The city of Allen Park might be able to apply for a Stormwater, Asset Management and Wastewater, or SAW Grant, from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, which is developing a new water infrastructure grant program, for which some of the infrastructure needs determined by the study could be eligible.