Traverse City commissioners will discuss recommendations from staff tonight (Monday) on how to spend $1.65 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, including sewer upgrades, tree canopy expansion, Union Street Dam inspections and repairs, employee bonuses, and support for affordable housing projects. Commissioners will also tackle two climate change-related topics at their meeting, including an EPA report supporting the relocation of a sewer main near the Boardman River and a presentation on reducing carbon usage in the city.
The City of Traverse City received its final installment of ARPA funds on June 30, bringing the total amount awarded to $1,653,886. City leaders have until the end of 2024 to obligate use of the funds and until the end of 2026 to make final distributions. Due to the lead time of many projects, city staff are making recommendations now on how those funds could best be used under ARPA rules, which allow for a broad variety of applications in the categories of COVID recovery, replacing lost public sector revenue, providing premium pay for workers, and investing in infrastructure.
According to a memo from City Treasurer and Finance Director James Henderson, staff have identified several projects that are a “good fit for meeting the spirit” of the ARPA program and are “inclusive of city commission goals and objectives and maintaining a healthy and balanced approach of meeting important needs for the community.” Chief among those projects is installing a slip line system in the city’s sanitary sewer system, which would reduce stormwater and groundwater inflow and infiltration issues. Inflow and infiltration are the two main culprits plaguing the city’s sewer system, according to City Director of Municipal Utilities Art Krueger. Using ARPA funds for the slip line project – estimated to cost between $800,000 and $1 million – “would get it done on a timely basis without requiring additional rate increases,” according to Henderson. “It could also be accomplished while the water table has receded.”
Two other projects could also provide environmental and infrastructure benefits, according to Henderson. One is the expansion of the city’s tree canopy, which he called a “good fit for addressing public health and improving stormwater and groundwater conditions.” Up to $200,000 has been budgeted for the program. “Another project that benefits public health, and specifically water related infrastructure/environmental remediation, is the inspection, monitoring, and repair if necessary of the Union Street Dam,” Henderson wrote. The city has already approved contracts totaling approximately $175,000 for the dam; it could use ARPA instead of general fund dollars to cover the project as an allowable infrastructure investment.
City management is also recommending providing a one-time salary premium payment of $500 for full-time city employees – a total cost of $90,000. “Due to current inflationary factors, this would be valued by city staff in recognizing current circumstances,” Henderson wrote. The final staff recommendation for ARPA dollars notes that city commissioners have identified affordable housing as a top priority for the board. “The city plans to work with local nonprofit organizations to put a portion of the (ARPA) dollars to work on these vital services,” Henderson said.
With U.S. Department of Treasury recently issuing its final set of rules on how communities can spend ARPA dollars, Henderson said city leaders can now move forward with “discussion on how to best strategically utilize these funds.” He added: “This will allow us to have the opportunity to talk through priorities and invest in a way that would be impactful for our community.”
Krueger will give a presentation to city commissioners tonight on an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) assessment of a 24-inch sanitary sewer line located along the Boardman River in the Front Street alley in downtown Traverse City. City staff were invited in 2021 to participate in an EPA evaluation of the city’s water and wastewater resiliency to climate change and chose the sewer line as the specific project to review. “Since 2020, when we were having all of the overflow issues with high water, we wanted to zone in on that project and look at how future climate change could affect (the pipe) if we did a repair and replacement project or if we didn’t,” Krueger tells The Ticker.
The report looks at both a baseline scenario – if no effects were felt from climate change in Traverse City – and a climate change scenario that assumes a warmer and wetter future. The climate change scenario factored in a 10 percent increase in the intensity of 100-year precipitation events, a 7 percent increase in total annual precipitation, and a 2.63°F increase in temperature annually in 2041. Both scenarios showed Traverse City would significantly reduce its economic risk by relocating and upsizing the sewer main, which currently sits directly on top of a vulnerable stretch of river wall. In a baseline scenario, moving the line could reduce the city’s economic risk from damages by up to $2.1 million. A future with more extreme precipitation poses even more danger, with the city reducing its economic risk by up to $7 million if it moves the line, the report found.
The findings confirm the city’s current planned course of action to move the line in the 100 block alley of Front Street (pictured), according to Krueger, upgrading it from a 24-inch to 30-inch pipe and relocating it further south in the alley away from the river. That relocation project could allow for a redesign of the riverfront in the 100 block. The 200 block alley doesn’t offer enough room to move the line, Krueger says, so the city will instead install extensive sheet piling to stabilize the retaining wall. The total project cost for both blocks is estimated at $2.85 million, with the city applying for state reimbursement for the entirety of the project. Construction contracts will come to city commissioners soon for approval, Krueger says, with work anticipated to start in the 200 block this fall and the 100 block next spring. Both block are anticipated to be completed by summer 2023. Krueger says the EPA report “confirms the project is critical to the city’s needs and reinforces the fact it’s a good investment” due to the ”huge reduction in risk” the city will realize by addressing the pipe.
Finally, city commissioners will hear a presentation tonight from Traverse City Light & Power Energy (TCLP) Technician Jacob Hardy and University of Michigan student Luke Ranker called “Electrify Traverse City: Reducing Carbon in Traverse City.” The presentation note that TCLP is seeking to reduce the city’s carbon footprint and offer several options the city could consider, including establishing a net zero goal, hosting educational events and community green fairs, creating strong branding by making climate goals “ubiquitous in Traverse City,” and motivating residents to action through financing and rebate offers. While “switching from natural gas will not be an easy sell,” educating consumers about long-term cost savings and options like heat pumps, weatherization, and electric stoves and vehicles can help in reducing greenhouse gases, according to the presentation.