May 23, 2012 - Availability of Detroit sewer service is no longer limited to just the southern half of Oxford Township.
On Thursday, May 17, it was announced that the boundaries of the township's sanitary sewer system will now encompass an area totalling 36 square miles.
"Basically, the (sewer) service territory was expanded," said Tim Prince, chief engineer for the Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner's Office. "Initially, only part of the township was included in the DWSD (Detroit Water and Sewerage Department) service territory. It's been expanded to include all of Oxford Township now as part of the (updated) contract with Detroit."
For those township officials working to bring more development, particularly industrial and commercial, to the community in order to expand the tax base and job opportunities, this expansion was welcome news
"It gives us the option for future growth north of Ray Rd. in the northeast corner (of the township), which previously had been limited in that respect due to (the inability) to (access municipal) water and sewer (services)," said township Trustee Mike Spisz. "If a business wanted to go up there, they had to put in their own well and septic or wastewater management (systems)."
"Realistically, there are no future plans to put anything up there right now," Spisz noted. "It just gives Oxford the opportunity. Before we couldn't even consider it because couldn't put sewers in that area."
Spisz serves on the township's Economic Development Subcommittee (EDSC) and chairs the Water and Sewer Committee. He spent the last 18 to 24 months researching and discussing the sewer issue with Oakland County officials.
Jack Curtis, who chairs the EDSC, was also quite pleased by the news.
"The EDSC has tried to identify roadblocks when it comes to developing some of our industrial properties and one of them is the lack of sewer (service) north of Ray Rd," he said. "Part of the reason nobody goes there is it's not sewered. The expense of a septic field for a small lot can be astronomical."
"Our job is to eliminate roadblocks for businesses that would like to develop (here)," Curtis continued. "Our industrial properties are heavy to the north of Ray Rd., you can't really have a development without sewers, so we had to get that changed."
Spisz agreed. "It was always a hurdle whenever we talked to anybody," he said. "(Expanding the sewer district) is the first step to allow us to actually start planning for the future of that area."
Having sewer service is particularly important for future development of properties along M-24, north of Ray Rd.
"The EDSC has always said (M-24) is our main thoroughfare through Oxford Township, so we've always said we'd like to at least have (sewer service) along M-24," Spisz said.
For years, the township sewer system's boundaries had been limited to an area bordered by Ray, Dunlap and Granger roads to the north; Sanders Rd. to the west; Stanton and Indian Lake roads. to the south; and Chinkapin Rill (a street inside the Lake Villa Manufactured Home Community) to the east.
Within that district, the township (not including the village, which has a separate system) currently has a total of 3,483 sewer customers, of which 3,372 are residential and 111 are nonresidential.
Every day the wastewater generated by Oxford customers flows to Detroit where it's treated by the city-owned plant at 9300 W. Jefferson Rd. The plant currently serves the needs of 35 percent of the state's population contained within Detroit and 76 other communities in an area exceeding 946 square miles.
Oxford is connected to the Detroit plant through the Clinton-Oakland Sewage Disposal System, which includes a total of 12 townships, villages and cities.
Properties outside Oxford Township's sewer district must rely on individual septic systems for their wastewater disposal.
For years, it was believed that the reason the township's sewer district couldn't be extended north of Ray Rd. was because that area is part of the Flint River Watershed, whereas the southern part of Oxford is part of the Clinton River Watershed.
"That's what I kept hearing," Spisz said.
A watershed is the area of land where all of the water that is under it or drains off of it goes into the same place.
"The original boundary (line) was drawn based on the watersheds for some reason," Spisz said. "When we started asking questions, we asked, 'Why is it that we can't go up there?' Nobody really had a straightforward answer, other than it was a different watershed."
It turns out there was no basis for it, at least none that Spisz could find.
"There's no documentation as to why we couldn't cross watersheds. Nobody could ever prove that fact," Spisz explained. "There are other areas in Oakland County that do cross watersheds within different (sewer) service districts. When you (say), 'Show me where it says we can't go across watersheds,' nobody can provide any information or data to support that. There's nothing there that says we couldn't go north."
Spisz discovered the limitations of Oxford's sewer district were not a legal issue, a water issue or an environmental issue. It was simply a "contractual issue" with Detroit based on what was previously agreed upon.
Prince indicated being hooked up to a municipal sewer system is preferable to developers installing septic fields or building numerous small wastewater treatment plants.
"It's very difficult to keep those in compliance, to make sure they're managed properly and not having any negative impact on the environment," he said. "In my estimation, it would be easier to extend a sewer line than to build a wastewater treatment plant or (install) septic fields."
Although Spisz is optimistic about the effect an expanded sewer district will have on future growth, he's realistic in that he doesn't believe this will spawn some immediate explosion of new development.
"We don's expect any development to come in tomorrow and say, 'Okay great, you have sewers, now we can build,'" he said.
If a new development outside the current sewer district boundaries desired service, it would have to bear 100 percent of the cost of providing the infrastructure to connect to the system.
"It would really be just like any other sewer extensions they have right now," Prince said. "(A developer's) responsibility would be to build that infrastructure within his property and then obviously, pay to get it connected to the existing system."
Prince admitted it could be costly for some developments depending on their location.
"If they're two miles away (from sewer service), they've got to extend the line a couple miles," he said. "But that's where the negotiations come in and maybe if they end up paying for that and somebody (else) ends up tying into that (line) in the future, there's probably a possibility for them to recoup some of their money."
Spisz indicated the township, at this point, hasn't indicated a desire to fund expansion of sewer infrastructure.
"There are still limitations because we (the township) don't have any financial plans or anything in place now to go any farther than what (the system) is (currently)," he said. "Not unless the township (board) decides they want to throw money at this to see if they can get the developments to come in, but that discussion has never happened."
Spisz clarified that the change in the size of Oxford's sewer district does not mean an increase in the maximum amount of wastewater the community can have flowing to Detroit.
"It didn't expand our (sewer) capacity in any way; it just expanded the (service) area that was in the contract (with Detroit)," Spisz said. "Our capacity doesn't change. Our capacity stays the same."
"(Oxford is) still restricted in the amount of (sewage) flow they're going to be able to send to the Clinton-Oakland system," Prince said.
Right now, the township is, on average, only using 44 to 46 percent of that capacity, so it's not like expanding the sewer district's boundaries is going to put Oxford over its agreed upon limit with Detroit.
"There's developments that still aren't finished yet like Waterstone and a couple of other residential ones," Spisz said. "If those all went to full capacity, I'd have to look at the numbers, but that 44-46 percent would probably go up to 60-65 percent. So, we'd still have additional capacity on top of that.
"None of us believe that over the next one to two years, we're actually going to build out Waterstone or build out all those other developments that are still empty."
There's the potential for Oxford Township, along with other communities, to gain additional sewage capacity in the near future.
"As part of that Clinton-Oakland system, we're looking at the potential of sending some flow to the Pontiac wastewater treatment plant," Prince said. "(That) will free up capacity for all of the Clinton-Oakland communities. Capacity will not be an issue anymore."
Prince noted it's not a done deal yet. It's still being worked on. "All the i's aren't dotted and all the t's aren't crossed," he said.
Spisz explained that in order for this to happen, the county must build a connector linking the Clinton-Oakland system to the Pontiac plant. Spisz noted the agreement being worked on with Detroit would allow the Clinton-Oakland system to divert up to 30 percent (10 million gallons per day) of sewage to Pontiac instead of Detroit.
Once the connector's built, which is expected to happen in the next one to two years, Spisz said the contract with Detroit could be renegotiated so that "everybody can come in and put in requests for additional capacities."
"We could request it if we so need it," he said.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.