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Sewer setback: Grant out of reach for village

March 19, 2014 - Ortonville- The village will not receive a $2 million grant that could have been used for design of a sewer system.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality recently announced communities that would be awarded $97 million in grant funds from the Stormwater, Asset Management and Wastewater Program for this fiscal year. The village did not make the cut.

"It puts us behind for sure," said Village Manager John Lyons. "This (the grant funds) would have been for design (of a wastewater treatment system) so the council has to decide if they want to include the design in the overall loan."

The village's grant application was among 673 received by the DEQ, in to total, the communities applying requested $541 million. The DEQ has $97 million available in grant funds from this program for fiscal year 2014.

Sonya Butler, program manager for the SAW program, said the DEQ determined communities would be selected by a lottery process after more applications were received by the Dec. 2 deadline requesting more funds than were available.

"It was a complete lottery draw, complete chance," said Butler. "We did the entire list of pool of candidates at the same time, added up the dollar amounts and went as far down the list as we could go to get to $97 million... There were no specific guidelines when they wrote the legislation that it be based on need. This was the fairest way to distribute the money."

Lyons is disappointed need wasn't taken into account.

"Environmentally, we are going to have to have sewers sooner or later because of septic systems failing," he said. "We are going to need to do it soon, especially because of the school district."

Over the course of the next few years, the DEQ will continue to distribute funds to communities in the order they are on the list, but with Ortonville near the bottom (on the 12th page of 13 pages of listed communities) Butler acknowledged it is unlikely they will see any grant funds unless the legislature comes up with more money for the communities.

Lyons noted the village is the closest they have ever been to getting sewers. Within the last two-and-a-half years, the council has secured property on Narrin Street that can be used for a wastewater treatment plant, completed a required environmental study, and obtained the required DEQ permit.

If the village had received the grant, they would have been obligated to start construction within three years. Now, the council must decide whether to move forward, possibly including design cost in a Rural Development loan application. Lyons estimates it would cost somewhere between $15-$18 million to bring sewers to the village, funded through the federal loan, which could be paid back over the course of 40 years.

"We need to decide if we want to pursue this and if village residents are willing to pay for it," Lyons said, adding that the council could decide on a smaller, less expensive system than what was planned, one that would still include the schools.

In the meantime, the DEQ permit needs to be renewed every year at a cost of $2,000 annually. If it lapses, Lyons said the village will pay thousands more to start the process again.

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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