Funding not approved

Published 8:31 am Wednesday, October 24, 2007

By By ERIKA PICKLES / Niles Daily Star
NILES – In the 1970s, the state of Michigan offered grants to cities which would help to make improvements and update the water treatment systems.
These grants would help pay 75 percent of total costs to the plants, which included paying for the design phases of the project. In doing this, cities would not only save a large amount of money, but all of the water treatment plants would be up-to-date.
The idea sounded perfect at the time, which is why Niles, along with other cities across Michigan, decided to make the updates.
However, that was over 30 years ago. And everyone knows that in time, things age.
Now, the external functions of the plant are worn out and need to be replaced. The three biggest issues are with the headworks, an outdated biosolids handling system and an inefficient disinfection process.
Many may not even understand how those functions work, but they are key functions that help keep the plant working. They are not parts you can pick up at Lowes and fix on your own.
"It's very, very expensive to fix all of the problems," Niles City Administrator Terry Eull said.
How expensive? Roughly $20 million in improvements, according to a study done three years ago.
"We didn't want to borrow that much money in the first place, so we had them detect which three components were most in need of repairs," Eull said.
In order to fix the items, the city still had to apply for a grant in the amount of $10.9 million.
Like 23 other communities in the state, city leaders applied for state funding through the State Revolving Fund which would allow them to correct the problems. In total, just this year, $1.1 billion was requested from communities. Of that, only $537 million was awarded to cities across the state. Niles was not one of them.
"They based it on a ranking system and Niles did not fare well so we will receive no funding for 2008," Eull said.
Even with the bad news, Eull said the city remains hopeful that they will be able to get funding in 2009.
"The guys at the plant are doing a great job at making sure these things hold out as long as they can," he said.
Other problems need attention brought to them, including remodeling and replacing other old equipment, but for now, the biggest problems need to be addressed and probably won't be for another year or two.
"At least it's still working," Eull said. "If something did happen, worst case scenario would be to bring in equipment, which is a cost we really can't afford," he said.