City failed emergency electricity generation call last month: Faulty equipment to blame

By Ralph Echtinaw

Called on to help generate electricity during the cold snap late last month, St. Louis failed to deliver much as two generators refused to work together.

City Manager Kurt Giles told city council Tuesday, Jan. 3, that the Michigan Public Power Agency notified member cities (including St. Louis) that the Mid-continent Independent System Operator (MISO) issued an “emergency operations deployment of available generating units in Michigan” at 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 23.

The city’s electric department personnel quickly mobilized but couldn’t get two diesel generators to work together. So they tried the city’s other two generators and were successful, but by then the emergency was almost over. (It ended at 9 p.m. that night.)

“We didn’t get as much generation as we hoped in but we did respond to it,” Giles said. “We’ve got to fix whatever the problem is with (engine) number seven.”

The engines that wouldn’t work together were tested last summer but not together. “Our crews ran both 1 and 7 in July and August but did not attempt to run them simultaneously,” Giles said. “The summertime testing is for capacity verification, so the goal is to demonstrate near-maximum output. I believe it was Unit 7 they were having difficulty with and replaced relays so they were able run the verification testing. Having the second unit cause the first to trip off-line was a new issue.”

The city’s electric plant has four diesel-powered generators in addition to two hydroelectric generators. But the city buys most of its electricity on the open market.

Pump to be rebuilt

City council approved spending $29,821 with Jett Pump & Valve of Waterford, Mich. to rebuild one of three wastewater pumps at the Union Street Pump station (adjacent to the high school football field). That breaks down to $16,521 for material and $12,250 for labor. 

The faulty pump has been out of service since early October. Giles said that Jett won’t be able to do the job until late March.

Public Services Director Keith Risdon said the city paid much less in 2018 when the last pump was rebuilt. The labor cost was half of what it is now, and the materials cost was $4,000 less.

This would have been brought to city council last year if Jett hadn’t taken until now to come up with a price for its labor, Risdon said.

He warned that a second pump at the Union Street station will need to be rebuilt soon, hopefully during the dry season this summer.

Water Department truck purchased

City council approved purchase of a 2023 Ford F-350 pickup truck from Feldman Ford of Detroit for $83,095 to be used by Water Department personnel.

The truck alone costs $49,706. Knapheide of Flint will install a service body and crane for $33,389.

The Water Department’s current 2007 Dodge 2500 truck may be transferred to the wastewater treatment plant or sold at auction.

Feldman Ford is “hopeful (the truck) will be ready before the end of Summer 2023,” Giles said. “However, the quote references 300 days for expected delivery.”

Farmland rental

Council voted to rent 75 acres east of Luce and north of Van Buren in Arcada Township to Friedrich H. Gadde, 51, of Gadde Farms for $10,000. That amount covers the 2023 growing season.

The property is part of 114 acres where the city has created five wells to supply the Gratiot Area Water Authority that serves Alma and St. Louis.

City Manager Kurt Giles said the portion of the property that doesn’t contain wells will eventually be sold.

“It will be up to the City Council, but we expect to recommend the eventual sale of residual land. Some of the residual land may be outside of the tillable acreage but, in general, most of the 75 acres would be sold at some point. We’ve yet to determine what will be recommended in terms of parcel splits and/or permanent easements for water facilities.”

Clerk job posted

Following the resignation of city Clerk Mari Anne Ryder (effective Jan. 27), the city has posted the clerk job internally. Current city employees have eight days to apply for the job. The annual salary for the job is $48,300 to $53,700, depending on qualifications.

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