Mount Clemens weighs water system switch, plant replacement

By: Dean Vaglia | Mount Clemens-Clinton-Harrison Journal | Published November 21, 2022

MOUNT CLEMENS — From ordinance and zoning changes to budgets and more, the Mount Clemens City Commission discusses many important subjects and issues that affect the lives of residents.

And though it has not been the core subject of a meeting to date, one subject looms high above One Crocker Boulevard: what to do about the Mount Clemens water system?

“It has always been in the forefront when we’ve done budgets,” Barb Dempsey, city commissioner, said. “Even back a few years ago when I was mayor, it was something we discussed because the plant is aging.”

Mount Clemens has operated its own water system since 1888. Its water filtration plant is located at the corner of Crocker Boulevard and Jefferson Avenue in Harrison Township, serving the city and select Harrison Township residents along Crocker. But parts of the plant are getting older, becoming harder to replace and losing the ability to provide the needed million-gallon-per-day capacity, and city officials are now debating whether to build a new plant or migrate to the system provided by the Great Lakes Water Authority.

City commissioners have held work sessions to hear presentations from the engineering consulting firm Fishbeck and the GLWA. Fishbeck examined options ranging from a GLWA switch to different new plant sizes, finding the GLWA switch as the least expensive move to make.

The GLWA switch is estimated to cost $16.9 million, while a new facility could cost $44.8 million or $50.6 million depending on its capacity at 8 or 10 million gallons per day, respectively. The GLWA option would also involve selling the Harrison Township land, estimated to bring Mount Clemens $2 million.

Cost is not the only factor in play. Commissioners are considering what the lack of independence under the GLWA would mean.

“There’s some things they need to assure us of,” said Denise Mentzer, an outgoing city commissioner elected to the Michigan House of Representatives on Nov. 8. “No. 1, I don’t want them telling me or the residents here, ‘There’s a drought today — you can’t water your lawn.’ I want the city to have control over that. No. 2, I’m not going to go through another situation like Highland Park.”

After Highland Park stopped paying the GLWA the amount it owed for water services, the GLWA attempted to cover this deficit by raising rates on suburban customer communities. Various communities in Oakland and Macomb counties resolved not to pay the increased rates — claiming they would only pay for the water their communities are getting — and intervention from the state was required for the GLWA to reverse its plan and compel Highland Park to pay the amount it owed.

Another lingering question is the viability of the GLWA’s facilities, with Mentzer claiming some are as old as the Mount Clemens plant. A trip for commissioners to a GLWA facility on Nov. 14 was seen as a way to address this concern.

The use of American Rescue Plan Act funds is also a factor, as the COVID-era grant with provisions for new infrastructure investments must be spent by the end of 2024.

At press time, Mount Clemens City commissioners had not made a decision on the future of the city’s water system, and Dempsey remained unsure when such a decision would be made.

“I think discussions are going to intensify and continue because we have a time limit on the money we received,” Dempsey said. “We are going to continue on that road, but you wouldn’t see anything for a couple years yet.”

Dempsey believes this decision may be too big for the commission to handle alone and would like to see more community involvement on the matter.

“Whether that be a special hearing for the residents, whether it is a survey, whether it is just making sure we have more open workshops other than maybe an hour before the meeting … to address just specifically this,” Dempsey said. “I do anticipate more public participation.”

The Mount Clemens City Commission meets at One Crocker Boulevard at 7 p.m. on the first and third Monday of each month. Meetings are live streamed and uploaded to the city’s YouTube page “Bath City Beat.” Meeting agendas and packets can be found under the “government” tab at mountcle