Major Sewer Upgrade Means Loss of Trees, Gain of Capacity

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Friday, March 1, 2019, 6:05 am
Jessy Gregg

Above: Stock photo of sewer work in East Lansing.

A major upgrade to buried infrastructure on Michigan Avenue between Harrison Road and Highland Avenue will be starting in early March, with site preparations including tree cutting starting as early as next week. The project, which will upgrade storm and sanitary (toilet) sewers, is being referred to as the Infrastructure Restructure.

Scott House, Director of East Lansing’s Department of Public Works (DPW), explained one of several problems that is being addressed through the Infrastructure Restructure.

“The challenge with Michigan [Avenue] is there were a couple sewers there are several sewers in poor condition and are undersized, and part of this is correctly sizing them to improve conveyance.”

He described the existing infrastructure as a “Rube Goldberg machine” and called that section of the sewer as “the traffic jam for the sewers to get to the [Water Resource Recovering Facility] plant.”

The project will necessitate the removal of 30 mature trees from the Michigan Avenue Median.

DPW staff explained that the tree cuts are necessary to accommodate infrastructure upgrades which will run close to the median, and that they have worked with MDOT to save as many trees as possible throughout the nine-month-long construction process.

“We are removing 30 trees,” explained House, “but we are also saving 30 trees” through a design process aimed at reducing how many trees might have ended up on the cutting list.

Below: Scott House presenting at City Council.

According to Engineering Administrator Nicole McPherson, trees will start being marked for removal during the first week of March and cutting could start soon after.

It’s important that all tree removal be done before March 31 because there are two endangered bat species, Indiana and northern long-eared bats, which will be returning to the area and establishing nests in local trees.

McPherson emphasized that any trees that are removed will be replaced during the restoration phase of the project.

One benefit of the Infrastructure Restructure will be the separation of storm water runoff from the area, allowing a large quantity of water that would have been diverted to the Water Resource Recovering Facility (WRRF) to be diverted to the Red Cedar River. (The WRRF was formerly known as the wastewater treatment plant.)

According to House, on a regular day the WRRF treats around 12 million gallons of sewage. During a storm event, that quantity can increase to upwards of 40 million gallons, which strains the capacity of the plant.

Another upgrade included in the project is a “large diameter combined sewer,” which will be installed west of the Brody housing complex on the MSU campus and will cross under the Red Cedar River.

McPherson emphasized that the City is working in cooperation with MSU whenever possible and that, because MSU has allowed that branch of the system to cross through campus, it is possible to do the necessary infrastructure work without tearing up Harrison Road between Michigan Avenue and Kalamazoo Street.

However, the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Harrison Road will be closed for several weeks in May.

Assistant Engineering Administrator Bob Scheuerman told ELi that the City is conscious of special events going on at MSU such as commencement and big games. He said that those are taken into account when scheduling major closures.

Because Michigan Avenue is an MDOT-controlled street, maintaining traffic flow through the area is a high priority for both MDOT and East Lansing, and at least one lane of traffic in each direction will be open during construction.

Letters have been sent to property owners and businesses that will be impacted by the construction, and project overview meetings have been scheduled for 4 p.m. on March 13 for local businesses and at 6 p.m. for local residents. Both meetings will be held at the Hannah Community Center and are open to anyone who would like more information about the upcoming construction.

Updates and closure notices will be posted on the City’s webpage at You can view a map of the project here. © 2013-2020 East Lansing Info