Snowmelt system met with warm feelings

With its first full year installed in all of downtown, the snowmelt system cleared the way for people to have an easier trip to Grand Haven's main business district. "Even though it was a warmer winter, I saw a lot of people down here walking,' said Rita Fortino-Brook, owner of Fortino's, 114 Washington Ave.
Alex Doty
Mar 16, 2012


She said there was no standing snow anywhere in town — and with winter nearly over, there isn’t damage to streets and sidewalks from snow-removal equipment.

“It really has been an excellent improvement,” Fortino-Brook said.

Dana Kollewehr, director of the Grand Haven Main Street Downtown Development Authority, said she has received good feedback about the snowmelt system.

“The feedback I got was that when we did have to use it, it was a positive,” she said.

The system uses hot water from the Board of Light & Power’s J.B. Sims Generating Station on Harbor Island. The heat is looped from the plant, through the city and back to the power plant, and it is the result of the plant’s power generation process.

Jeff Chandler, director of production for the BLP, said water temperatures reach as high as 110 degrees going to the city and 95 once it returns to the plant.

“We can achieve higher temperatures, but it is load-dependent for us,” he said.

City Manager Pat McGinnis said it is a balancing act to make property owners along Washington Avenue happy and keeping costs of the system in check.

“The hotter we keep it, the more it is going to cost,” McGinnis said.

McGinnis said the city is charged based on the BTUs (British thermal units, used to measure the heat value of fuels) drawn off of the system to heat the water. City officials have come up with a $30,000 figure as a baseline of what it takes to melt snow in a typical winter.

Officials are applying $20,000 to the cost of operating the system based on the price of manually removing snow. The remaining cost is passed on to property owners on Washington Avenue from Harbor Drive to Third Street.

“It is not a special assessment,” McGinnis said. “It is set up like a utility.”

Kollewehr said the estimate for operation was at $5 per square foot, and that the price would fluctuate based on system use.

For Fortino-Brook, this fee is something she doesn’t mind paying.

“I’m fine with paying for my fair share,” she said.

BLP operators are also getting used to using the system in its first complete winter.

“Being the first full year with the full system done, it has been somewhat of a learning experience for us to see when to start heating and what heat is enough,” Chandler said.

Chandler said there’s a four- to six-hour window to heat the system in order to melt snow, which can get as high as seven hours if there is a lower wind chill.

Chandler noted that plant operators keep an eye on the Internet, TV and radio to make sure they have a current forecast.

“They’ve got quite a few tools to monitor the weather,” Chandler said.


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