To keep Saginaw toilet flushing in the right direction, officials are asking for a $7 million fix

SAGINAW, MI — Paul Reinsch doesn’t want to know what happens when all the toilets for homes on the west side of Saginaw no longer go where they’re supposed to.

“That wouldn’t be good,” said Reinsch, Saginaw’s water and wastewater operations manager. “That would probably make the front page of the paper.”

Preventing such an environmental nightmare is at the heart of the most expensive of 31 items Saginaw City Hall department heads recently added to a “wish list” of proposed spending that could be funded by $52 million. dollars in federal stimulus funds.

Reinsch and his team estimate that replacing a critical piece of Saginaw’s aging wastewater treatment infrastructure would cost $7 million. Some or all of that estimate could be covered by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) revival that the Saginaw City Council will ultimately decide how to spend in future years.

“It would be best if ARPA covered all the costs, but if that’s not possible, covering $4 million of the cost would allow us to move forward with the plans and development of the project,” he said. .

Saginaw Town Manager Tim Morales said some of the infrastructure requests on ARPA’s “wish list” will need to be addressed at some point, whether financial support comes from stimulus or funds linked to bonds and loans.

“Using ARPA funds could help level future water and sewer rates across the city,” Morales said. “I’m sure there will be further analysis and discussion.”

It’s unclear when the council might vote on the $7 million pipeline project.

In the breach

The costly initiative would replace the existing reinforced concrete pipeline built and buried three feet below the bed of the Saginaw River when Harry Truman was president, Reinsch said.

For more than seven decades, the critical infrastructure served as a sort of undersea bridge, allowing toilet waste and runoff to pass from the west side of the Saginaw River to the east side. This underground journey across the river is significant, Reinsch said, because the Saginaw sewage treatment plant is on this side of the waterway, less than a half-mile south of Crow Island.

There is no sewage treatment plant on the west side of town.

The proposed $7 million project would replace that aging pipeline with nearly 3,000 feet of new pipeline, measuring between 42 and 48 inches in diameter, Reinsch said. Much of the dollar estimate represents the logistical challenges of installing a pipeline under a riverbed, he said.

Records show that crews in the late 1940s installed the existing pipeline using cofferdams, which essentially removed water from isolated stretches of the Saginaw River while workers buried the pipe under the bed of the river. the river temporarily exposed to the air. They accomplished this task in a river that is estimated to reach depths of 27 feet.

A life later, technological advances offer new methods. Reinsch said there was no decision yet on how officials might lay a new pipeline, but the likely approach would involve drilling a channel about 20 feet below the river bed, inserting the new pipeline in the breach. This is a task the crews could accomplish without draining any part of the river.

“You’re talking about a lot of equipment setup and a lot of technical issues, capabilities and knowledge,” he said. “That’s why this project is so expensive. It is not a simple project.

Reinsch said there was an urgent need to move the project forward soon.

While an underwater inspection of the existing sewage pipe in 2008 showed no signs of impending failure, the infrastructure is reaching its estimated lifespan, he said. The evidence supporting this estimate: other parts of the system are beginning to fail.

At the end of October 2021, one of the six raw sewage pumps at the sewage treatment plant broke down. It was equipment as old as the undersea pipeline, and inspectors determined that the damage was likely the result of seven decades of wear and tear. Reinsch said crews hope to replace that sewage pump this summer.

He said it was essential that Saginaw replace its subsea sewage treatment pipeline before it suffered an equivalent failure.

“We don’t want to go there,” Reinsch said of the environmental mess that could ensue. “Let’s put it this way: people would be upset about it, and that would be a big deal.”

If the old pipeline failed, Saginaw workers would redirect toilet flushes and runoff from west side neighborhoods to the combined sewer overflow facilities on that side of the river.

Typically, these facilities are only used when heavy downpours create more wastewater than the pipeline can carry across the river in time to be treated. On these occasions, combined sewer overflow structures treat and discharge inflow into the Saginaw River.

“When you use (combined sewer overflow facilities) you’re basically providing settling and chlorination to kill dangerous bacteria to the best of your ability, but that’s not as effective as what we’re doing at the station. purification”, Reinsch mentioned.

If crews installed a new pipeline, city officials could rehabilitate the old pipeline to serve as a redundancy measure for its successor, he said.

Aging facilities

The third most expensive item on City Hall’s “wish list” for stimulus spending is also Saginaw’s aging sewage treatment system.

Reinsch said he requested $4 million to update an existing combined sewer overflow facility as well as the parking structure built above it nearly half a century ago.

Regulars of the Old Town business district of Saginaw are likely familiar with the targeted structure, even if they are unaware of its hidden functions.

On the surface, the structure serves as a large parking lot on South Hamilton that stretches from Hancock to Court, or as the Ippel Building’s cat corner.

Beneath the surface lot, several columns of additional parking lots were closed years ago, both due to deteriorating structural conditions and frequent reports of “disreputable activity” among those present, Reinsch said. .

Beneath the layers of parking spaces is a combined sewer overflow facility that, in part, serves one of the city’s busiest business districts.

Reinsch said the entire structure needed repairs and renovations. Crews built the facility in 1976, records show.

Learn more about MLive:

Proposal to demolish old Saginaw Fairgrounds renews hopes for redevelopment

See Saginaw staff’s $32.1 million wish list for stimulus spending

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