Cost for GR biodigester project on the rise

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — In 2017, officials announced a $38 million alternative to avoid a more expensive expansion of the wastewater treatment facility in Grand Rapids.

But the price tag on the city’s biodigester system, currently under construction, could end up costing $57 million.

Last October, city commissioners approved a revised budget for the biodigester not to exceed $57 million and change.

City officials blame an increase in heavy equipment and fabrication costs, something Grand Rapids Managing Director for Public Services Tom Almonte says is hitting everyone.  

“We’re seeing increases between 10, 15, 20, 30, up to 40 % increase from projection to what the projects are because the market is shifting,” Almonte said.

Driving the biodigester project is growth, especially the number of businesses setting up shop in Grand Rapids. 

Production, especially at food-related businesses, creates a lot of waste and the current treatment plant is nearing capacity.

One early option was limiting waste discharge permits. 

“Translation, we’d have to say to the business community you cannot grow anymore in our community,” Almonte said. “And we know we could not have that conversation.”

The biodigester is an alternative designed to take waste from large scale producers, like Founders Brewery Company, pipe it into large tanks now under construction at a site behind the city’s current water resource recovery facility and basically cook it down to much smaller, more manageable solids. 

Natural gas, a by-product of the process, will then be sold back to energy suppliers.

But the biggest benefit will be in reduced waste going into the city’s wastewater system.

Without the biodigester alternative, the city was looking at doubling plant capacity at an estimated cost of $148 million, much more than the higher final cost projections for the biodigestion system.

The bill for the biodigester and related projects is paid through the city’s sewer fund, part of residents’ quarterly water and sewer bill.

Initially, the project may increase sewer bills by less than a half percent.

But eventually, Almonte says the sale of natural gas and reduction in waste sent to the current treatment plant will result in savings.  

“We see that the biodigestion will mitigate the rate by 9% to our community,” Almonte said.

The facility is expected to start digesting waste by March and producing natural gas by July 2020.

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Online:

Biodigestion Program

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