Water authority working toward final engineering of pipeline

GENESEE COUNTY — The Karegnodi Water Authority is working to get master contracts signed so final engineering can begin on a proposed $605 million water pipeline from Port Huron to Flint.

Genesee County Drain Commissioner Jeff Wright, who is the CEO of the water authority, said the master contracts will decide how many shares of the pipeline each of the five communities involved in the project will own.

“For the water authority, all of the bylaws have been approved, the structure is approved,” said Wright, “now we’re woking to get master contracts signed to determine number of shares each community will own.”

Once the contracts are signed, Wright said final engineering will take place.

Wright said the master contracts is the most critical phase of the process because the shares will determine ownership and how much each community pays. He said the authority should have the contracts signed and final engineering and design underway in May.

The move to build a separate pipeline started in 2009 after frequent water rate hikes from the City of Detroit began to push water costs up. Last year, Wright said, Detroit raised Genesee County water rates almost 17 percent and he said he expects another 18 percent — almost $5 million — in increases for 2011.

“When I became drain commissioner in 2001, we paid $8 million for water,” said Wright. “Last year it was $25 million.”

Residents should expect 12 to 15 percent increases each year for the next five years from Detroit, Wright said, with a pipeline possibly saving local residents millions of dollars in water costs over time.

“What’s driving this for us is the economics,” said Wright. “How can we bring people more affordable water?”

After the master contracts are signed the water authority will set a budget. For the first year it will be about $5 million, which will be used for the engineering and design costs. Each one of the communities involved in the project will be responsible for their portion of the $5 million based on the shares they will own in the pipeline.

The five members of the authority are Sanilac, Lapeer and Genesee counties and the cities of Flint and Lapeer. When the third water authority meeting is held Jan 11, it will be at the Sanilac County Board of Commissioners office.

Wright said the authority will consider a request from St. Clair County to join the authority. He said he is not sure if they would be coming aboard as a full-fledged member or as a purchaser of water from the proposed pipeline, those details will be worked out later.

The first step in building the pipeline would involve placement of a $40 million water intake in Lake Huron within the next 36 months, with a pipeline built in 24 months and pumping stations taking another 24 months.

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