By Sterling McGinn

Two public hearings revolving around the C2AE-Clean Water SRF project will take place prior to the April meeting of the Newberry Village Council.

The matter was discussed in length at the March meeting of council.

The meeting was chaired by President pro-tempor Lori Stokes, who filled in for President Catherine Freese. Both Freese and Trustee Jeff Puckett were absent that evening and only two members of the public attended.

Since the last council meeting, several developments occurred regarding the 2023 Clean Water SRF (State Revolving Fund) project.

Nearly a year ago, the council adopted the final plan, which includes repairing and replacing existing sanitary sewer lines within the Village limits. Improvements to the wastewater treatment plant are also included in the plan.

“The biggest issue came from EGLE (Environment, Great Lakes and Energy) themselves,” said Village Manager Allison Watkins. “Last year, we submitted our application for 2023, which included the project plan packet, and everything we wanted to do.”

Relining some sewer lines is a large portion of the project, and is the focus for this year. The 2023 project amounted to $1.6 million.

“It was reviewed again by EGLE, and we were told we would be funded,” Watkins said.

Issues have surfaced within the project plan that will force changes, which will be discussed at public meetings. “Next month there will be a clearer picture of what we will actually be doing,” she said.

“It is not until after they say you are going to be funded, and start the whole process, that they assign your project plan to someone, and they pick out step by step the things that are not correct and accurate,” said Watkins, who described the process as frustrating.

The meeting and public hearings will be held Monday, April 17, a day earlier than the usual set date, to accommodate Watkins, who will be attending a conference. The meetings on April 17 will begin at 5:30 p.m. at the Water and Light building.

In another topic that evening, Watkins gave an update on the Save the Bells Christmas decoration project, which began in 2017. Watkins distributed deposit and tracking reports dating from 2017 through 2022. Those documents were also made available for the public that night.

As of March 10, 2023, a total of $28,961.75 has been charged to the Save the Bells account for expenses used in the restoration of the iconic Newberry Christmas lights.

The funds were raised through donations from past and present area residents, local businesses, and through various programs within the community.

“Some of the expenses at the beginning in 2017 were being paid out of the electric fund,” Watkins said.

A vast amount of the restoration work was completed by Save the Bells committee members and local craftsmen who donated time and materials.

Most of the committee member’s work has now been completed and the remaining restoration project, such as wiring, has shifted the responsibility to village crews.

Watkins said $40,417.93 in donations and funds from the scrap metal dumpster had been received since the inception of Save the Bells.

A total of $12,844.51 is remaining in the account and will be used for repairing the stars, which will be the last part of the restoration project. The white bell covers were all remade and will be installed by staff members.

Another portion of the project recently completed is the greenery that is installed on the light poles. “The boughs are complete—they were all repainted and rewired,” Watkins explained. “All the old greenery was taken off and new put on.”

Watkins told the board that the scrap metal dumpster will remain in use to continue to acquire additional funds for the project at this time.

In other news, Watkins hopes to send surveys for the village tree issue to customers along with their April billings. The online surveys will be posted by April 7.

Last month, the council approved sending paper surveys asking for opinions as to whether trees should be replanted for streetscape downtown.

The current trees will be removed after some of them damaged sidewalks in the downtown area.