2010-11-07 / Front & Center

Water authority makes official launch

810-452-2601 • nelliott@mihomepaper.com

LAPEER COUNTY — Ka-reg-non-di. Get used to it. That’s the official name of the new regional water authority established to oversee the design and construction of a new water pipeline. The Karegnondi Water Authority had its first official meeting Oct. 26.

It heralds the launch of a five-year process to build a pipeline that will track through Lapeer County from Lake Huron to Genesee County, and perhaps beyond. The distinctive name for the authority comes from a Canadian Indian tribe’s word for Lake Huron.

"Eventually, the water will be put in, it will probably take five years or so," said county commission chair Dave Taylor recently, who attended the authority’s launch meeting. "It's going to be different, but I think it's going to be better."

The new authority met at Flint’s City Hall, with a large and receptive gathering on hand for the proceedings. During the authority’s first official function they elected officers. Genesee County drain commissioner Jeff Wright is chief executive officer for the authority. Flint mayor Dayne Walling was elected chair. Vice chair is Sanilac County drain commissioner Greg Alexander. Lapeer County’s Amy Planck is secretary for the new authority.

“There was just a groundswell of support. Everyone was in favor of moving this project forward,” said Lapeer city manager Dale Kerbyson.

“It went smoothly,” agreed Lapeer County drain commissioner John Cosens who has a seat on the board. Cosens, like others involved with the project, is cognizant of the water issues facing municipalities in Lapeer County.

“Detroit hasn’t moved in any direction except up in their prices,” said Cosens. Rate hikes from Detroit Water and Sewerage are still fresh in the minds of their local customers. And, as third tier users, Lapeer and Genesee County customers pay the highest rates.

“We pay 21 percent of the entire system, and we use 10 percent of the water. Obviously, it’s very unfair,” said Kerbyson, who also sits on the board.

Overtures to DWS to discuss possible purchases of capacity or water line have been rebuffed. Decades-long contracts have similarly been rebuffed by third-tier users as they explore their options, namely the Karegnondi line.

“Now, they have to take us seriously,” said Kerbyson.

“If you look at the cost of the proposed project and Detroit’s own figures over the next 25 to 50 years, [the Karegnondi line is] the same amount of money for 25 years, then it drops dramatically,” said Cosens.

“It’s cost-effective to build it from scratch,” said Kerbyson.

The total cost of the proposed project is just over $600 million. The first $300 million will build the pipe, the intake and pump stations. It’s another $300 million to build the infrastructure for treatment in communities. Lapeer County’s share of that is estimated to be under $125 million if its municipalities come on board. No Lapeer County municipalities have as yet committed to purchasing capacity on the new system.

Some areas in the county would be wellserved by the pipeline even without treated water. At a recent county meeting, commissioner Gary Roy pointed out that the new pipeline is good for irrigation in the county, since untreated lake water can be used. "It's actually a win-win situation for this entire county," Roy said.

Cosens says design of the pipeline is likely to start in April, and will take about a year to complete. Then, “It’s about four years to build the system.”

“It’s interesting. It’s complex. I give Genessee County a lot of credit,” said Cosens.

At next month’s meeting, the group will look at their preliminary operating budget, set their calendar, and begin to chart their course.

“The snowball’s formed, now we get to start rolling it down the hill,” says Kerbyson.

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