At Welsh Family Park in St. Clair Shores, the Macomb County Department of Public Works plans to construct a building and a shaft leading down to an inflatable rubber bladder to help retain excess water in the sewer pipe during heavy rain events.

At Welsh Family Park in St. Clair Shores, the Macomb County Department of Public Works plans to construct a building and a shaft leading down to an inflatable rubber bladder to help retain excess water in the sewer pipe during heavy rain events.

Photo by Kristyne E. Demske

New plan proposed to reduce overflow in Lake St. Clair

By: Brendan Losinski, Kristyne E. Demske | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published February 21, 2021


EASTPOINTE/ST. CLAIR SHORES — If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

That seemed to be the sentiment of the Macomb County Public Works Department as members proposed a new plan to keep treated sewage water from being dumped into Lake St. Clair.

Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller explained that she and her staff had presented St. Clair Shores officials with a plan to increase the storage capacity of the Chapaton Retention Basin to reduce the amount of treated sewage discharged into Lake St. Clair during heavy rain events about a year ago, but the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy denied the permit for that project.

But because Miller, county and local officials and residents agree “that we need to always look with an eye to water quality,” the department is moving forward with what would have been the second phase of the project, which EGLE has indicated it would permit.

Miller said she is excited the county will be able to utilize new technology to increase the storage capacity of the existing infrastructure by about 7 million gallons of water during storm events without flooding residents’ basements.

“I know we all share a common goal about water quality. I think we’re going to be able to show you a great project ... how we can deliver a good project with a minimum amount of stress on our ratepayers,” Miller said.

The 8 1/2 Mile Relief In-System Storage Project will involve two locations in St. Clair Shores: Welsh Family Park, 22603 Carolina St., and the intersection of Beaconsfield and Oak avenues.

Macomb County Public Works Engineer Vincent Astorino explained the project to St. Clair Shores City Council members Feb. 1. It will make use of an inflatable rubber dam installed in two locations that will not impact residents’ homes while the water is being stored. The sewer pipe is 12 feet in diameter and buried 30-50 feet deep in areas.

“We actually walked the entire sewer length. This pipe is in very good shape,” Astorino said.

The rubber dam is being used around the country and even in different locations throughout the Great Lakes Water Authority. The brand proposed to be used in the project is currently being tested in Germany. When it is inflated with air, it fills up the pipe and blocks the flow of water. Public Works officials would then slowly deflate it to allow for a slow dewatering of the pipe when there is enough capacity to safely send it to the GLWA for treatment.

“That’s 7 million gallons of water that we don’t have to treat with sodium chloride,” he explained.

A pipe shaft about 40 feet deep, 78 feet long by 52 feet wide, will be installed at Welsh Park to allow for the installation of the inflatable rubber dam and a bypass channel for emergency operations and controlled dewatering at the end of the rain event. A building will be constructed above ground to hold electrical equipment, the air compressors and a generator for redundant power. The department is being cognizant to reduce noise and odors with equipment inside the building, as well, for the comfort of the surrounding residences. A similar setup will be installed in the greenbelt of Beaconsfield and Oak avenues.

“We don’t want to just release that air into a neighborhood; we want to treat it first,” Astorino said.

At Welsh Park, the work will also include a complete redesign of the park itself, with new play structures and potentially picnic tables and cooking areas, depending on the wishes of the city and surrounding residents.

“You’re not going to see anything that’s underground,” he said. “There will be some access hatches for our staff to get down there.”

He said they hoped to have the full design completed by March, which would then allow them to go out for construction bids in October and begin construction sometime in January or February of 2022. While the full project is expected to take about two years, the construction at Welsh Park should only take about 12-14 months, Astorino said.

“Hopefully we only have to take the play area down for one season,” he said.

The county plans to have an outdoor meeting with residents surrounding the park as soon as the weather allows.

The project is expected to cost about $16.7 million, but the department had already raised $7.7 million for the storage project that was denied. That means Public Works will have to finance about $9 million, to be paid for by the state, county, St. Clair Shores and Eastpointe. Nearly all of Eastpointe uses the system, and about 80% of St. Clair Shores does, as well. The costs will be broken up so that Eastpointe pays 54.4%, St. Clair Shores 25.1%, Michigan 16% and Macomb County 4.5%. However, Lake St. Clair Clean Water Initiative Bonds are expiring in 2022, which will save Eastpointe $566,000 per year and St. Clair Shores $1.6 million per year, so the $550,000 estimated annual payment on the project will not cause a net increase in the amount charged to ratepayers.

“Here we are with a project that we are going to reduce combined sewer overflows by 35%-40% (and) we’ve got quite a bit of this money already raised,” Miller said. “To be able to do a project like this with this kind of reduction and not have to raise the rates” is good for the community.

Miller also presented the plan to Eastpointe officials at the community’s City Council meeting Feb. 16. Since most of Eastpointe’s water uses the same system and much of the piping that will be utilized in the project lies underneath Eastpointe, Miller wanted to keep the council apprised of the situation, as well.

“There is no real action required by Eastpointe,” Miller said at the meeting. “St. Clair Shores is who has to actually weigh in on the work, since the work will take place in their city. … We’re using existing underground infrastructure to stop sewage from getting into the Great Lakes, and we’re doing it in a way where we don’t have to raise your rates. … We have to do something about our water quality, and Lake Saint Clair is our drinking water.”

Eastpointe City Manager Elke Doom said she was pleased with how Miller laid out the plan and thinks it will be a good change for members of the community.

“We’re very pleased this will help the city with water backups,” she said. “We’re also happy this will mean no rate increases. I’m glad to see Candice Miller working for the residents here.”

St. Clair Shores Mayor Kip Walby said that the city’s Playground Committee would work with the county to design the new play equipment.

“It’s actually really good timing, since we have been doing other playgrounds,” he said. “We appreciate your stewardship. We’ve got a responsibility to try to leave the place better than we had it, and this project does that.”