News Three Rivers Commercial-News, Penny Saver, & Sturgis Sentinel

City may reach out to lake communities to replace Constantine sewer volume, revenue

By Robert Tomlinson
News Director

THREE RIVERS — With Constantine in the process of exiting from Three Rivers’ sewer system, city officials say they are looking at ways to replace the volume Constantine would be leaving behind for the future.

One option? Reaching out to lake communities around the area to fill the void.

Mayor Tom Lowry and City Manager Joe Bippus discussed the possibility during city commissioner comments at the Jan. 3 Three Rivers City Commission meeting, their first meeting of the year.

Constantine is currently in the process of constructing a new $20 million wastewater treatment plant for the village, which is expected to be completed in May 2025 and is being funded by a USDA rural development grant. Since July 1996, the village has been under contract with the city for sanitary sewer services, and contributes about 40 percent of the city’s wastewater treatment plant volume, approximately 600,000 gallons a year, according to Bippus in an interview Monday. The Michigan Milk Producers Association in Constantine is also planning on building its own plant, Bippus said.

During discussion at the meeting, Bippus said the city has been in discussions with accounting firm Plante Moran for studies and projections on the economic impact of Constantine leaving the system, which he initially expects to be a reduction in revenue and costs for the plant.

To replace the volume and replenish the plant’s customer base, Bippus said during the meeting there were some options possibly on the table, including reaching out to lake communities to see if they’d be interested in hooking up to the Three Rivers system.

“At different times, they’ve talked about having a sewer system,” Bippus said.

In the interview Monday, Bippus expanded on that, saying that at one point, the city was in negotiations with the Fisher Lake community to provide sewer service to the lake area. He said the city is planning on discussing sewer service with Fisher Lake, Corey Lake and Clear Lake associations in the future.

Bippus also said Monday the city may hire a firm that is currently working with Lockport Township and Park Township to do “investigative work” with cost estimates of expanding services to the lake area.

“This is to sort of lay the ground work, so that if we go and talk to a lake community, we have something to present, rather than just, “Hey, try this,’ and we have no idea what it cost,” Bippus said.

There is no timeline at the moment as to when the city may approach lake communities about the possibility of joining up. When asked about the possibility of competition from the proposed Park Township wastewater treatment plant in going to the lake communities, Bippus said he wasn’t worried about competing with them for service.

Back at the Jan. 3 meeting, Lowry opined that Constantine would ultimately “regret” leaving the city’s system, and also accused the village of not giving the city a four-year notice of leaving the system, which was a clause in the original 1996 contract related to discontinuance of sanitary sewer service. Lowry floated the idea of legal action against the village because of this.

“We need to start investigating legal options,” Lowry said. “I mean, we really do, and what kind of penalty or what can we do to make them comply by the contract they’ve signed.”

The clause in the original contract, obtained by the Commercial-News, also calls for the village to pay to the city “a monthly amount equal to the average of its last three monthly bills for sanitary sewer service pursuant to this Agreement” for the remainder of the agreement’s term.

However, Lowry said either way, the city “needs to look at replacing that revenue” Constantine brought to the facility.

“That helps us lower rates to our citizens. I want the commission to know that staff may be approaching some lake associations at some point, because they’re our best potential candidates to replace that volume,” Lowry said.

Bippus said Monday that while the city doesn’t have to replace the volume that Constantine leaving the sewer system would leave open, doing so would be beneficial to residents, in his view.

“The more customers we have, we don’t want to have to increase rates for our own residents and businesses,” Bippus said.

In other business…

  • Commissioners received a status report on the city’s retirement fund, which noted that the fund is currently 61.6 percent funded. Finance Director Bobbi Schoon said last year, the fund was 72 percent funded, but as of Dec. 22, 2023, the city’s investments into the account lost $1.6 million, which decreased the percentage. However, she said because the fund was at least 60 percent funded, the city does not have to come up with a corrective action plan. The report was approved by commissioners unanimously.
  • Casey Tobias of Homeless Outreach Practiced Everyday (HOPE) and downtown business owner Candy Zeismer addressed the commission in public comment, noting difficulties with the city in regards to building codes and what they called a lack of support and help from the city with supporting HOPE. Commissioners Carolyn McNary and Pat Dane pushed back on the claims of a lack of support, with McNary saying that if an agency needs the city’s help, “conversations can help,” and that the city was “interested and needs to know.” Dane opined that saying the city wasn’t doing anything to help “isn’t fair.”
  • During commissioner comments, At-Large City Commissioner Lucas Allen announced he would be running for re-election in the November 2024 city commission election.

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 or robert@threeriversnews.com.

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