Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller, center, is joined by members of the Macomb County Board of Commissioners on a tour of the Chapaton Retention Basin in St. Clair Shores in 2018.

Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller, center, is joined by members of the Macomb County Board of Commissioners on a tour of the Chapaton Retention Basin in St. Clair Shores in 2018.

Photo provided by Macomb County Public Works Office

Plan to reduce sewer overflows gets state funding

By: Kristyne E. Demske | C&G Newspapers | Published January 4, 2019

 The basin will receive a $3 million grant for a project to reduce overflows.

The basin will receive a $3 million grant for a project to reduce overflows.

File photo by Kristyne E. Demske


ST. CLAIR SHORES/EASTPOINTE — A plan to eliminate three-quarters of the combined sewer overflows into Lake St. Clair from the Chapaton Retention Basin is one step closer to becoming reality with a grant from the state of Michigan.

The state Legislature approved a $3 million Michigan Enhancement Grant in December for the Macomb County Public Works Office to help fund an estimated $30 million plan to double the total storage capacity at Chapaton, which now can hold about 28 million gallons of combined stormwater and sanitary sewage from Eastpointe and St. Clair Shores.

“This is a creative plan that Candice Miller has put together,” said state Rep. Kevin Hertel, D-St. Clair Shores. “The Macomb County delegation working together ... was able to get the $3 million that she asked for.”

When there are heavy rains or snow melt, however, the capacity of the underground pipes is overwhelmed, and combined sewage and stormwater is diverted into the basin, where it is treated with a strong bleach mixture. But when the basin reaches capacity, it overflows into the lake.

Although newer areas of the county have separate pipes for sewage and stormwater, older neighborhoods like those in St. Clair Shores and Eastpointe have portions of their system where the stormwater and sewage are combined in the same pipes, leading to potential sewage — treated or not — making its way into the lake during heavy rain events. While some Macomb County municipalities have already separated their pipes or are working toward that goal, Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller said that to separate all the pipes in St. Clair Shores and Eastpointe would cost about $370 million.

“That would solve the problem, but it’s unaffordable,” Miller said. “It’s not realistic. That’s why it’s never been addressed, because everybody’s so overwhelmed by the numbers.”

She tasked her team with finding another way to reduce overflows without separating the sewer pipes.

The plan developed by the Macomb County Public Works Office will make two changes to the facility that, together, will add 30 million gallons of sewage storage to the system, doubling the current storage. The first portion of the plan will widen a canal where the overflows take place and move the overflow gates in the canal out closer to the lake. The county office has already requested bids to design this portion of the project, and Dan Heaton, public relations manager for the office, said that they expect bids back by Jan. 15.

The second prong of the plan will install a series of internal gates in existing underground sewer pipes that will allow station operators to better control the flow of sewage, allowing some to be stored in the pipe until the wet weather is over. Flow meters installed in existing pipes showed a lot of storage capacity, which could be used to mitigate overflows, as some of the pipes are up to 12 feet in diameter.

The office plans to put design bids out for the gates portion of the project in January or February. Combined, the two portions will cost about $30 million. The Public Works Office expects that construction on both projects could begin this year.

“We have to put in gates at two or three strategic locations and so, in a real heavy wet weather event, we’ll be able to use these gates to store the flow until the event is over, rather than discharging it into the lake,” Miller explained. “We are going to design it in such a way that the flow, when it gets to a certain level, will be able to go over the top of these gates so it will never back up (into houses).”

Miller said that she appreciates the state Legislature’s support on the project.

“I was delighted to get the $3 million. That’s 10 percent of the cost,” she said.

She said she is working with Michigan’s federal delegation to potentially get additional federal funding for the project, as well. But if no further funding is available, the remaining estimated $27 million of the project would be paid for with a bond issue and ultimately paid by ratepayers in St. Clair Shores and Eastpointe on their water bills. Miller said that the increase to customers’ current cost would be about $15-$20 per year. That amount could be reduced depending on potential federal funding and the actual cost of the project.

“You hate to spend anything, but we just can’t keep doing this,” she said.

Hertel said that a top priority for him has been improving the water quality in Lake St. Clair. Improving the infrastructure in this way is a step in the right direction, he said.

“Folks across the county have realized that any combined overflows that go into Lake St. Clair impact us all,” he said. “This is a regional issue that we all have to work on.”

Miller said that stopping combined sewer overflows was a large part of the reason she ran for public works commissioner in the first place.

“It’s something that we can’t just keep saying is too expensive or too hard; we’ll just pass it on to the next generation,” she said. “It happens more than just in Macomb County.

“I think we can be a role model for other areas that are also discharging, so we’ve got to clean up our own backyard here first.”