A 25-year water main replacement project at $16 million is not enough

By Karen Cornelius

 

The Finance Committee of Vermilion City Council met on Monday night, May 8, and received a jaw-dropping challenge to replace the city’s water main lines as mandated by the EPA. The water lines are so old and inefficient that even a 25-year water main replacement program presented by city engineer Lynn Miggins at a cost of nearly $16 million still won’t be enough to fix all the lines, many undersized, and the continuing breaks and corrosion.

 
City engineer Miggins passed out a plan to start water main replacements citing there have only been a few replaced in the past 30 years that she knows. She said the city’s water system is old going back to 1903 and some lines, the originals, are that old. Ironically, the newer lines are failing faster than the old lines. She said in the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s, ductile iron pipe was used that has thinner walls subject to more corrosion. Back 80 to 100 years ago, a type of cast iron was used that held up. So, replacing the old lines would not be the first to do.

 
Miggins said she evaluated all the records for breaks from 2009-2017. Although there were data gaps, patterns were emerging. She said it is well known that there are problems on the westside of town. Adams Street has a high number of breaks and so does Haber Road and Douglas Street due to an inefficient distribution system. She said a first priority for 2018 construction would be a new main from Liberty Avenue to Decatur to Adams. The study and design would cost $46,968 in 2017 and construction at $422,712 for a total of $469,680. This replacement should solve the westside problems. On Adams there are two lines which need abandoned for one new line.

 
Another water main priority in 2017 would be Highbridge Road at the bridge with a cost of $235,440, but the city would only pay 20 percent or $47,088 due to the state 80-20 funding of the bridge replacement project. The replacement would have to be done before the bridge, and she would like to go out to bid later in the year.

 
The city engineer stated that what they spend each year is based on the streets and priorities. The first year is 5 percent for the study, the next year is 10 percent for the design, and the third year is 85 percent for construction. She said planning level costs include engineering and inspection inflation at 3 percent per year. She said the costs are all inclusive, design, inspection, and surface restoration. While $200 per foot and over seems expensive there will be driveways to take out and utilities to re-locate. She suggested council look each year to see if any priorities change on the list of streets. She said they could have “hot spots” come up where they have to change the schedule. “We will spend $16 million in 25 years with only a fraction replaced while the others are becoming 25 years older. It’s a challenge here.”

 
She advised that council would not just consider the breaks, but they would also have to consider how critical the waterline is. Some are more important than others, for example, those on Liberty Avenue and Route 60. Lines in smaller neighborhoods can have their breaks isolated and fixed easier. If a line is breaking from the water tower or Liberty Avenue, that’s worse.

 
Looking at the 25-year plan, Miggins said the water main replacement for Main Street from the Beach Well to Liberty Avenue slated for 2020 construction should be moved up to this year. She said the city has a pervious pavement grant for the westside of North Main to correct drainage and they don’t want to do this project only to find out later the main could fail. That total cost could be $390,000. The city engineer also noted that State Street (Route 60) and Liberty are scheduled to be resurfaced in 2022 so water main replacements should be done before that happens. The State Street project would be $241,488, and the Liberty project would be $491,855. Vermilion Road is also scheduled to have a section repaved in 2022 and water main replacement should be done there first as well. Miggins pointed out a critical section of undersized pipe on West River, too.

 
The city engineer stated they probably don’t want to do replacements on recently paved roads such as Sanford, Douglas, Essex, Fairfax, and Berkshire. She added that Altamont has the most frequent main breaks but construction is not scheduled until 2022. “During the first 8-10 years there is no shortage of mains that need attention,” said Miggins.
Councilman Jim Forthofer asked what percentage of water main replacements would be done out of the total in 25 years. Miggins responded she didn’t calculate by percentage but she could and would let them know. Councilman Frank Loucka asked if materials they use could be improved, a better alloy or grade? Miggins answered they were using PVC to avoid corrosion because the basic problem for metallic water lines is corrosion. Councilwoman Barb Brady asked about the lines going into homes. Miggins said they use a copper service for homes and those pipes would remain. Brady asked if they could reline the 6-8 inch pipes. She said relining reduces the inside diameter, but they could look at other techniques such as “bursting.”

 
Councilman Fred Ostrander stated that looking at the next five to ten years, he would rather go for a big bond issue and do the crticial work now than do it in little pieces over years. “I’d like to get all the trunk lines done, do a big chunk all at once.” Miggins responded issuing a bond was something they could look at but would need a financial analysis. She said they could do a big design package all together.

 
Finance director Brian Keller said his concern was the ability to pay it back. Ostrander replied he didn’t see much difference between the inflation cost of 3 percent per year versus the interest to borrow which could be 3 or 3-1/2 percent. He thought with the water rate increase and EPA fee they would bring in $387,000 more per year. Mayor Eileen Bulan added they could look at the Ohio EPA for low interest loans. Miggins said they could also look at the Ohio Water Development Authority where money is available.

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