Funding Bill For Sewage Cleanup In House


    LANSING — The key bill of a five-bill package to stop raw sewage from overflowing into Michigan waterways has been passed by the Senate and is now before the House. If the bill fails, it’s likely the whole package — which would provide local communities with $125 million in loans to fix overrun problems — will crumble.

    The bill, known as SB 105, would add $25 million each year to the State Water Pollution Control Revolving Fund for the next five years, loan money that local governments could use to upgrade sewer systems. That bill, along with the other four that comprise the package, was introduced in February by a trio of Republican Senators: Mike Goschka of Brant, David Jaye of Washington Township and Grandville’s Ken Sikkema.

    SB 105 was approved by the full Senate in late March.

    Although Sikkema said he hadn’t spoken with House members when he talked with the Business Journal, he did say he felt that the bill would also clear the House.

    “The reason that I’m optimistic is that the problem of sewage overflow in Michigan is a very serious environmental problem, and it’s a problem that has to be solved. We have to stop this. We have to reduce the amount of sewage overflow; it’s a serious pollutant,” he said.

    Sikkema added that overflows are a critical public health problem and are responsible for the closing of public beaches across the state.

    “Because it is such a top environmental problem facing the state, I have some optimism that the House is going to act on this favorably. The state needs to put more money into the revolving fund so local units of government can rebuild their infrastructure,” he said.

    Two of the state’s biggest regions are planning to do just that.

    Starting next year, Grand Rapids will begin spending about $150 million through 2019 to upgrade the system on the city’s east side. That massive expenditure follows the $200 million the city spent separating sewers on the west side during the first half of the last decade.

    Metro Detroit officials recently found out that it will cost them about $26 billion over the next three decades to replace sewers in seven counties, with the biggest tab of $9.3 billion belonging to Wayne County.

    But if the House fails to approve the package’s funding bill, these regional efforts to stop overflows will suffer major damage.

    “The other bills are important as well. But the bottom line is we’re looking at a multi-billion-dollar problem over the next 10 to 20 years. And the state, in my opinion, has an obligation to help local governments finance this, as does the federal government,” he said.

    “We’re not going to be able to solve this problem without putting major financial resources into the State Revolving Fund.”

    A report issued by Clean Water Michigan estimated that it will cost at least $5.8 billion to repair and replace some aging storm water sewer systems in the state over the next 20 years. The state has learned that more than 200 communities have reported discharging raw sewage into Michigan waterways over the past five years.

    As Sikkema noted, the other bills also have a vital role in the clean-up effort, and here is a summary of those four:

    • SB106 — Gives communities that have proactively addressed sewage problems a higher priority for financial help.
    • SB107 — Requires all onsite sewage disposal systems to be inspected and certified at the time a property is sold.
    • SB108 — Requires the Department of Environmental Quality to develop and implement a statewide monitoring program to measure the effects of untreated sewage on water quality.
    • SB109 — Limits a municipality’s exposure to lawsuits if it complies with the state clean-up plan.

    As press time, only one bill was still in a Senate committee, one was before the full Senate, and three had made it over to the House. So far, Sikkema said he was impressed with the speed the bills were moving in Lansing.

    “This is a top priority for the Senate,” he said.

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