By Jessica Mathews /

A groundbreaking ceremony was held Thursday to celebrate a unique partnership and an improvement project at the City of Howell’s Wastewater Treatment Plant that will benefit both residents and customers.

The $16.3 (m) million improvement project at the plant off South Michigan Avenue The project is made possible through a unique public/private collaboration between the City, Marion Township, and Pepsi Bottling Group. It’s being funded through the three entities and low-interest state loans to improve the recycling and recreational re-use of wastewater for the benefit of the communities and Pepsi facility.

Various city and township leaders, company representatives and others involved in the project spoke prior to the official groundbreaking and ceremonial turning of the dirt. Plaques were also presented to all of the partners involved.

Mayor Nick Proctor told the socially-distanced crowd that there was excellent community collaboration on the project and everyone really came together. He said over ten years was spent working and trying to put this together so it’s nice to see it come to fruition – adding it takes a community collaboration to do it. Proctor said the plant needed work and it will help Pepsi while increasing capacity and making needed long-term infrastructure improvements. He said they received some very favorable loans from the state and were able to pull the project together, adding hopefully they’ll get some debt forgiveness from the state down the road.

The Capital Improvement and Rate Advisory Board or CIRAB provides oversight for the operation and management of the Wastewater Treatment Plant that serves the City and Marion Township. Board member Mike Arens told WHMI that local utilities are like a black box to so many people because they’re not aware of them. He says they don’t realize how important they are and don’t know what sort of effort it takes to really make them happen or the work involved for such a successful partnership. Arens said he was thrilled to see so many people come out, commenting many people aren’t aware of what goes on behind the scenes in their community and things like the treatment plant typically under the radar but are critical to long-term development and their success, health, and safety. He added that these sort of partnerships are essential going forward for local communities to do development projects and community improvement projects and he’s thrilled they’ve gotten to this point.

The renovations and upgrades planned at the Wastewater Treatment Plant include enhanced secondary treatment, a new solids dewatering process, headworks replacement, and replacement of aging infrastructure throughout the facility. Pepsi Group reached an agreement with the City and Marion Township that allowed the company to decommission its pre-treatment process and instead send raw sewage directly to the treatment plant. In exchange, Pepsi agreed to pay for the required capital costs necessary to retrofit the plant.