Aging Sewer Lines Get Attention from Traverse City Leaders

Traverse City leaders will have to determine whether to repair, replace, or relocate portions of the city sewer line – particularly the line that runs along the Boardman River.

A stretch of the sewer line just north of the alley off of East Front Street, is just downstream of where the city saw overflows just last summer. Three times in three months – heavy rains and flooding triggered the release of untreated sewage: in June, July, and August. The wastewater spilled into the Boardman and flowed to Grand Traverse Bay… and the county health department cited high water levels and aging infrastructure as reasons for the spills.

Art Krueger is the Director of Traverse City Municipal Utilities.  “We’re watching it closely. (It’s) becoming more of a critical need in our infrastructure system the more we study and learn about it.” Tc Sewer 2

Krueger is concerned about the sewer line that runs behind the concrete wall along the Boardman River. “It’s in the 100 & 200 Blocks of East Front, it’s basically the alley behind the Front Street businesses… between Park Street and Union Street.”  The aging section of sewer line right along the Boardman River is one of the major sewer lines for the west end of Traverse City, and even brings in sewage from Garfield and Elmwood Townships.  “It basically takes in all of the wastewater from the west side of town. It’s one of our main west trunk-line sewers that, if the wall, which is undermined by the high water and river currents. If it moves at all it could cause and issue with our sewer there.”

Tc Sewer 5The goal is to find the best way to stabilize the wall and the sewer line – which could involve a complete replacement or relocation. Krueger says, “Due to the vicinity of the location there right on the river, it would be a catastrophic failure of the sewer if the wall were to tip or move.”

The clay sewer line was built 90 years ago – and re-enforced in the early 2000’s. That potentially gives it an extra 50 years of life. But, Krueger says, “It’s an original sewer built out of clay pipe back in the 1930’s we believe. We believe it’s secure, but if it tips forward into the river or something like that, it could separate the sewer in different places. And that would cause a large potential leak into the river.” Tc Sewer 4

Meanwhile the DDA says it only makes sense that any discussion on repairs and improvements along the Boardman should include environmental protections for the river, and improving river access for the community. Jean Derenzy is the CEO of the Traverse City Downtown Development Authority.  “That’s part of the discussion. Make those repairs and improvements at the same time. The most important part is the environmental piece. To make sure we protect that important sewer line behind that wall right now. And to make sure we are protecting the river, protecting those businesses that are hooked up to that sewer lead.”

“We’re really looking at greening that area and have it be more pedestrian-focused… and being able to have more access points (for) people trying to get to the river and embracing the river.” Derenzy says the discussion begins with city leaders but will be ongoing, and will include business owners along that stretch of the river as well as city residents. “We will be working with property owners. What does it mean for economic impact?”

Tc Sewer 3The cost of the project is a moving target. Krueger says, “The cost estimate right now is over $2 (M) million dollars. That could change as we go forward.” He’d like to see changes happen by the fall of this year, but acknowledges it could take until 2022.

Derenzy is eager to see improvements in both infrastructure and river access, and says the ongoing study of the sewer and the concrete wall itself is important. “It provides us what the alternative is, where the risks are with the utilities are behind the wall. As well as what those fixes can be when it comes back to the alternatives. And how can we improve what is there currently.” Tc Sewer 6

Krueger says it’s possible crews would stabilize the wall in one block, and completely relocate the sewer line in the 2nd block. City Commissioners will hear details in a study session Monday night, but no decisions are expected.