City Talks Millions In Proposed Water Fixes, Resident Pushback Over Sidewalk Project
Infrastructure was a key discussion topic for Traverse City officials on Monday as staff reviewed a new study showing millions of dollars in recommended fixes for the city’s water system over the coming years, as well as a planned start of construction in April on a 4, 52 miles of sidewalk were highlighted and hiking expansion to include 10 local schools. The sidewalk project has already been approved, funding is in place and the contractors are secured. However, some residents who have to remove illegal fences from their yards to make way for the new sidewalks are unhappy with the plan.
The state of Michigan requires communities like Traverse City to conduct a reliability study of their water system every five years. The Hubbell, Roth & Clark advisory group performed the most recent analysis of Traverse City’s water treatment and distribution system. The report contained some good news that the current system is adequate for the needs of local people. “Overall, we received a good report on it … we have a good, reliable system,” Art Krueger, City Director of the Stadtwerke, told the commissioners.
However, the report also noted that the city may need to upgrade critical parts of its system in the coming years – highlighting numerous short and long-term projects that are needed to increase its reliability, performance and capacity. The report recommended projects worth $ 8.9 million over the next five years alone, including repairs to water treatment equipment for $ 2.1 million and distribution system improvements for $ 6.8 million. Projects include replacing pumps, valves, and tanks, as well as electrical upgrades at the plant and major upgrades to distribution lines in the city, including Central and Boardman districts, parts of downtown, and Veterans Drive. The report also pointed to potential water pressure problems in certain hilly areas such as Wayne Hill and Grand Traverse Commons.
City manager Marty Colburn said the study will help staff and commissioners plan the 2021-22 budget this spring, which must be approved by the board by June. Some of the water system projects are already on the city’s radar and are included in the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) – a document that describes the main planned city projects annually. Other fixes, however, will have to be queued around town years ahead. “We’re not going to try to solve all of this in a year,” said Colburn. Nothing that several townships also rely on the city’s water and sanitation infrastructure – and Hubbell, Roth & Clark stated in their report that the highest percentage of population growth is expected in Garfield Township – some commissioners asked how the project costs were falling below communities would be divided between cities.
“How much of that is on us compared to the townships?” said Commissioner Christie Minervini. Colburn said it “literally depends on project to project” whether and to what extent the costs are shared by neighboring townships, but those partners would likely be responsible for taking on at least part of the system upgrades tab. Increasing the city’s water rate could also help improve funding, though Krueger said the scale of some projects would likely require borrowing from the city as well. “We understand that we don’t have unlimited resources,” he said, adding that his department would work to bring back realistic options for projects that are “based on what we can afford.” Mayor Jim Carruthers acknowledged that the city has “much of the old infrastructure that needs maintenance and repair,” but also stressed the importance of water quality to residents. “We are the land of clean water and we want to keep that classification,” he said.
The infrastructure was updated on Monday in an employee update for the planned start of construction next month for 4.52 miles of sidewalk and trail upgrades – plus bike path, traffic calming and signal improvements – around 10 local schools as part of the “Safe Paths to School” program ” presented . Government funding covers the majority of the project costs at over $ 2 million. Team Elmer’s has the construction contract and is following a schedule that minimizes work in close proximity to schools while classes are still in progress, with most of the most disruptive work being done this summer. The project is expected to be completed in October.
As part of the construction process, employees worked to save trees whenever possible. There are currently 33 trees that need to be removed to make way for new sidewalks. Tree removal is scheduled to begin on March 31 and be completed by April 4. Colburn noted that the city is working on planting more trees elsewhere. 176 new trees are ordered, 156 of which will be planted in the city and 20 in Hickory Hills – appearing on the city commission’s next agenda for approval.
The staff also assessed private land that will be affected by the construction of the sidewalk and marked several locations where owners had illegally built fences in the city’s driveway. Some of these owners have sent angry emails to staff and commissioners trying to crack down on orders to remove the fences or have them removed from the city to accommodate the new sidewalks. While some commissioners asked on Monday why the city couldn’t compromise on certain locations – such as the sidewalk being slightly narrower than the standard six-foot width for a fence to stay upright – Colburn and city engineer Tim Lodge said, it is important to enforce the city’s rules as consistently as possible among the owners.
City Commissioner Tim Werner also said it was important for the city to build its infrastructure with a view to longevity and the future. He stated that “our lives are short” and that fences and houses on properties could come and go, but the sidewalks themselves could last for hundreds of years. Commissioner Brian McGillivary also said it is the responsibility of owners to know where their property lines are and not to make improvements to urban properties.
“It’s very disappointing (having to remove improvements), but fences are cheap and that’s why everyone says to do a survey first,” he said. According to the Lodge, the city understands that amenities like fences are “close and expensive” to owners, and staff try to work with residents. However, the city is facing funding and route restrictions on new sidewalks – like trees, power poles, and sidewalks enough width for all users – this may require the fence to be removed. “We try to act uniformly so that everyone is treated equally,” he said.