Home News Big Rapids Asks the State for Money for Infrastructure to Make the Water Cleaner

Big Rapids Asks the State for Money for Infrastructure to Make the Water Cleaner

Big Rapids Asks the State for Money for Infrastructure to Make the Water Cleaner

The Big Rapids city commission approved a proposal from Fleis and VandenBrink Engineering to prepare project plans for applications to the Michigan Department of Energy, Great Lakes and Environment Clean Water State Revolving Fund and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund during its meeting on Feb. 20.

The  Clean Water State Revolving Fund is a low-interest loan financing program that assists qualified local municipalities with the construction of needed water pollution control facilities.

The Drinking Water State Revolving Fund program is designed to assist water suppliers in satisfying the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 – the principal federal law in the U.S. intended to ensure safe drinking water for the public – by offering low-interest 20, 30, or 40-year loans to eligible water suppliers.

Todd Richter, with Fleis and VandenBrink, told the board these programs have been out there for several years, but the city had not looked into them because officials did not want to go into debt to fund infrastructure improvements.

“With the funneling of infrastructure funding that is out there now, we have seen more grant options becoming available through the program,” Richter said. “It may be an opportune time to consider some of this funding for wastewater and drinking water improvements to the city.”

A requirement of the application to either of the programs is a project plan, he said, which includes the scope of the work to be done and cost estimates.

“With the project plan prepared, the applications will go forward, and we will find out if the city is eligible for a grant or a loan, and how that would break out,” Richter said. “At that point, you will have the opportunity to decide if you want to proceed with the projects.

“There is the risk that you run the engineering reports and get some results back that you are not going to get as much grant dollars as you had hoped,” he said. “You are not committed at that point, other than the upfront costs to prepare the plans. The plans are good for five years, so if you decide down the road you want to reapply, you will still have the plans.”

According to information provided by the director of public works Heather Bowman, the city submitted a letter of intent to apply, which includes a list of projects being considered for funding, including:

  • Replacement of 6,500 feet of 12-inch water main along State Street
  • Replacement of the State Street booster station pump
  • Upgrades to Mitchell Creek booster station
  • Water treatment plant improvements: raw water piping and clarifier repairs and coating
  • Wastewater Treatment Plant improvements: screw pump replacement, SCADA system upgrades, aeration blowers replacement, and Novak lift station replacement

Scott Hall, with Fleis and VandenBrink, told the board previously that communities from across the state submit applications to the program, which are scored by a team at EGLE, and the funds are disbursed accordingly.

He said scoring criteria include compliance with state mandates, improving infrastructure, planning for future asset management, and promoting resiliency and redundancy in the system. They also look at community statistics, including population projections, demographics, finances, and median household income, as well as whether a community is “overburdened.”

“Upgrades to maintain compliance is one we will be looking at because of the lead water line replacement requirement,” Hall said. “The fact that you are still improving infrastructure and qualify as an overburdened community does provide an opportunity for funding.”

He said to be considered overburdened, the median household must be below the state average of $63,000. The median household average income for Big Rapids is $29,000, according to the latest data. Additionally, the taxable value must be in the lowest 20% for Michigan populations. For 2024, that value was $22,920 and Big Rapids came in at just under $19,000.

“A lot of the grant money is going to overburdened communities,” Hall said. “According to the recent data published in 2021, you meet the overburden criteria, and based on the guidance they have given so far, it looks like the city would qualify for ‘significantly overburdened.’ Last year, that was one of the driving factors for the grant dollars and that is why we are bringing this topic back up.”

Hall said the city has been setting aside funding for infrastructure upgrades, but as costs for projects continues to increase, the feasibility of doing the projects on a cash basis has become more of a challenge. If the grant dollars do not come through, the low-interest loan is another alternative way to finance some infrastructure improvements and disburse the financial burden over a number of years.

Information in the proposal from Fleis and VandenBrink said the project must be presented and discussed in a public meeting prior to submission of the application. Following the public meeting, the project plan, including any public comments, will be submitted to EGLE for consideration.

If awarded funding, work on the projects will begin in the spring of 2025.

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