Sludge dryer project unlikely to move forward after successful petition drive

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By Jon Gaskell
Holt Journal staff writer

A Delhi Township project that would convert human waste into biofuels looks unlikely to move forward. Township officials are doubtful about the project’s future after Holt residents collected enough signatures to put the $5.5 million sludge dryer to a vote.

Delhi Township Clerk Evan Hope said petitioners gathered the 1,700 signatures required to force a referendum on the project in early July. Regardless of the referendum’s eventual outcome, the petition drive may have effectively ended the upgrade.

About $2.75 million of the project’s cost was to be covered by a grant from Michigan’s Clean Water Revolving Fund, which Delhi Township Public Services Director Sandra Diorka said makes the initiative so appealing. “We would have half the money necessary, so for us it seemed like the right choice.”

Even with the state grant, the project would not be free, however. The balance of the cost would be paid for with a $1.20 per month increase in residents’  sewer bills; an increase that opponents say township residents can’t afford.

Township Trustee Derek Bajema wrote on his website that the sludge dryer project would be, “a $5.2 million solution to a $55,000-a-year problem that isn’t even a problem.”

Opponents of the green initiative could not have timed the petition drive more perfectly. According to Hope, “The August election was too soon after the signatures were turned in and the grant deadline was before the upcoming November election.”

Since the deadline for the grant passed with the end of the state’s fiscal year last Friday, those crucial state funds will be unavailable for the next year.

“Because of the deadline of the state to accept the grant, it basically killed the project for this year.” Said Hope, “So the township has to apply for the grant again for next fiscal year and an election will have to be held sometime in 2012 before the township can proceed with the project.”

In a climate where both residents and municipalities are pressed for cash, Diorka doubts the sludge dryer will survive a referendum, “Now it’s on hold and we’re not sure those funds will even be available in the future.”

If the referendum is voted down next year, the township will be legally prohibited from looking at the project in the future, “If voters vote no on the project,” said Hope, “I don’t believe we can ever proceed with the project as is.”

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