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Sewage Issue Could Go To Supreme Court

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Although the state Water Resources Commission (WRC) has decided it is best that Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti tie into the Wayne County sewage system rather than expand local plants, the last word on the issue has yet to be heard. It was little more than a week ago that the WRC made its decisión, one that caught local officials by surprise. Basically, the WRC s a y s Washtenaw County's major municipalities must join a system which will carry local effluent to a huge plant on Lake Erie at the mouth of the Huron River. The rallying cry of those who oppose l the WRC decisión has become "save iLake Erie!" I It may well take a decisión by the Ination's highest court before this issue lis finally settled. A court test could come Ifrom any number of sources - indiI viduals living on Lake Erie, the State of I Ohio, or the province of Ontario. But before this level is reached, there will be extreme pressures placed on the national Environmental Prote'ction Agency by both those who are for and against the proposed Wayne County ) ' ' ' tem. The EPA must pass on this plan before it can be implemented. Closer to home, Rep. Raymond J. Smit, R-Ann Arbor, is working through the governor's office in an attempt to have the WRC's decisión reviewed. If there has been a definitive study of what the impact on Lake Erie from such a system would be, the results have not been made public. Smit says the results will be "disastrous," while Francis B. Frost - chief engineer of the WRC's staff - says the impact will be less than the harm done to the Huron River should local plants be permitted to expand. The official position of the WRC is that the decisión must be made now to get the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti plants off the Huron River because the state has to consider the future needs of more persons than the residents of Ann Arbor. The WRC says 20 to 30 years from now the recreational demands imposed on the Huron River by increased population will be tremendous. Frost says the oxygen resource level of Lake Erie, at the point where the Detroit River is also emptying into the lake, "is so much greater than the similar resources of the Huron River that the impact on Lake Erie will be less than the impact would be on the Huron Rivër, even if Ann Arbor were allowed to expand to tertiary treatment." Although the WRC was established mainly to care for the state's water resources, one of the major factors involved in its decisión was economie. Wayne County needs the population base of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti to The state Water Resou recommending that Ann Ail the Wayne County sewage i interests of the entire areij Smit. And, he adds, "it wj Erie," A court test could come J Láke Erie, the State of Ohj tario. nance the proposed system which also will extend into Oakland County. Wayne County officials say without the Washtenaw County population, the project could not proceed. Economics also have been a concern of local officials. They question the accuracy of cost figures presented by Wayne County. Wayne County says the Icost per capita - annually for 25 years [- would be $11-35. Preliminary checking in Ann Arbor's City Hall places this pigure closer to $27 per capita. If Ann Arbor is permitted to expand its own plant, the cost per capita locally would be about $17, city officials say. And this would be for a 20-year period 'of bonding instead of 25 years. There are other cost factors involved I as well. Most persons in a position to know believe Ann Arbor - if the WRC's decisión stands - will be forced to go to Detroit for its water supply. Estimates of what this would mean to local residents vary from a 50 per cent increase in water rates to a doubling of these rates, not to mention bonding c o s t s needed to bring Detroit's water to Ann Arbor. The WRC's decisión "is not in the best interests of the entire area," Smit says. He says the first and foremost concern is the impact on the state's water resources. "It will be disastrous for Lake Erie." Ann Arbor's plans for expansión of its sewage plant cali for installation of I equipment to provide tertiary treatment. I Some claim this process purifies water I to the extent that it is safe for swimmmg I and possibly even for drinking. Wayne County's proposed plant would Ihave only secondary treatment facihItics and Smit claims this secondary I treatment would be only "mediocre" at I best. . . _. :- Wayne County's plant is at least five I years in the future, and with any extendI ed court test it could be as far away as I ten years. No one has yet said what Ann I Arbor and Ypsilanti are to do in the mI terim. l a Arhnr's nlant is currently jacity. Public Works Department Supt. Fredrick A. Mammei says the city's jroposed expansión could be completed ivithin two years if given the go-ahead by the state. He says if Ann Arbor is Eorced to go to Wayne County the city will have to explore what can be done in the interim. This could involve minimal changes at the plant to increase its capacity until the Wayne plant is completed. Mammei views cost as one of the key issues. In addition to the $160 million cost of the proposed system, he says in the future the federal or state governments might require Wayne County to provide tertiary treatment at the Lake Erie plant. This would add a minimum of 25 to 30 per cent to the cost, he estimates. The Wayne County plant - if completed in 1975 - would service some 414,275 persons, and would be designed to serve a 1990 population of 695,000 persons. Detroit is not included. Still to be determined is who would control the new system. Local officials are fearful of loss of local control and forsee the possibility of a powerful Wayne County body having absolute control over local expansión efforts. Some also see a danger of Ann Arbor's development being cut off right now if the existing plant is not permitted to expand even to meet the needs for the next five to 10 years. Such a situation could hae devastating effect on such proposed ievelopments as the Briarwood regional .shopping center. And Planning Director Michael R. Prochaska claims a h u g e interceptor along the Huron River would speed development along that body of water, not only because the service is there, but because Wayne County would want more and more customers to bring per capita costs down. The professional staff of the WRC did not make a public pronouncement on its position, but Smit said he had talked to staff members privately who supported a plan which would have permitted Ann Arbor to expand its sewage treatment facilities. Smit said he is concerned about the politics of decision-making by the WRC, and further claimed that agency "swept under the rug" the question of Lake Erie. Smit points to the Los Angeles experience where a huge plant on the Pacific Ocean has been abandoned in favor of smaller inland plants. He says if the WRC plan is finally put into action, local plants will undoubtedly be "mothballed" for future use if Wayne County experiences the same effects which occurred in Los Angeles. Smit is also concerned about concentrating this amount of power in one body - Wayne County. Over the years he has opposed legislation which would permit the state to control Detroit water rates. But a project such as this, he says, would change his thinking on the matter. He believes a Wayne County system of this magnitude would force the state into the rate picture. . Wayne H. Abbot Jr., head of the 1 ties Department which handles Ann ■ bor's water supply, says he believes the I State Health Department would forcé I Ann Arbor to go to Detroit for water if I the WRC decisión holds. Ann Arbor is currently getting about I 80 per cent of its water supply from the I Huron River. One of the arguments I raised by local officials in Lansing was I that, if Ann Arbor had to abandon its I sewage treatment plant on the Huron I River, the flow of that body of water I would be endangered if the city I tinued to take water out for local uses. Much of the water taken out at Barton I pond for drinking purposes is returned to I the river downstream from the sewage I treatment plant. The city's water plant has been I panded to meet the needs of 1990 - a -■ capacity of some 40 million gallons per I day. Abbott claims that even if Ann Arbor I is forced to take its sewage to Wayne I County it could still take water from the I Huron River and leave sufficient flow-B age. However, this argument might not holdH too much water in Lansing, based on theH city's earlier argument that this wouldl not be the case. I Abbott says if the city does not pullB water out of the Huron River thereB would be no need for the city to main-H tain the four dams it now owns on thatH river. Will removal of sewage treatmentB plants in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti makeB the Huron River safe for swimming? No,H say local officials. And the WRC has notB spoken out on this issue. The problem is that it's not only sew-H age plants that are dumping pollutantsH into the river. Storm water runoff is a major pollu-B tant, and the WRC has not spoken onB how it intends to attack that problem. At times, the water below Ann Arbor'sl treatment plant is less polluted than thel water taken out of Barton Pond up-1 stream for drinking purposes, Abbott I says. Of course, this water is treated tol make it safe for drinking. The issue of a Wayne County hookup is I not a new one. When Ann Arbor was I considering expanding the sewage 1 ment plant in 1962 it received studies on I the feasibility of going to Wayne County. I It was found at that time the best for I Ann Arbor was expansión of its own I plant. The plant was expanded, presumably I to meet the demands of the city in 1980. I However, the plant has reached its I capacity long before that date. Over the past two years, the WRC has I fluctuated on its position. It first said I Ann Arbor must connect to Wayne I ty, then reversed its position saying it would be best if Ann Arbor were permitted to expand its own plant. Now it again has done an about face. It appears you can now add sewage systems to wars as making strange bedfellows with politics. rees Commission decisión, Ibor and Ypsilanti tie into lystem, "is not in the best Hl," says Rep. Raymond J. ill be disastrous for Lake ifrom individuals living on ! io, or the province of


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