Wrangell could receive $4 to $5 million state aid for water treatment plant

Wrangell is moving closer to receiving at least a $4.1 million state grant to add to $11 million in federal funds for construction of a new $15.4 million water treatment plant.

The House Finance Committee version of the state capital spending bill — the public works budget — includes a $5 million appropriation, while the Senate on Monday amended its version of the bill to include $4.1 million for the Wrangell project.

Lawmakers will need to merge and reconcile the two versions of the capital budget in the next week. With money in both the House and Senate bills, Wrangell is well positioned to remain in the final spending bill — though more likely at the lower Senate number.

The Legislature faces a May 18 adjournment deadline.

The capital budget, which appropriates hundreds of millions of dollars for projects statewide, is usually one of the last items lawmakers finish before adjournment as House and Senate members negotiate over items in the final package.

“It’s paramount that the state does what it can” to help fund the new water treatment plant, said Ketchikan Rep. Dan Ortiz, a member of the House Finance Committee. “It’s apparent that Wrangell is in significant need … to address the problem.” The representative’s district includes Wrangell.

High buildup of sediment has been a problem at the water plant over the years, affecting water quality, flow and treatment costs.

The borough assembly last month approved filing an application for a state loan of almost $4 million to complete funding for the project, as a potential backup plan if state money or other grant funds fail to come through. Paying back that loan, however, could add as much as an additional 30% to water utility rates, Borough Manager Jeff Good said May 4. That would be on top of a 30% rate hike approved by the assembly to take effect this month.

The borough also has applied for additional federal funding for the project, including from the Denali Commission, which distributes congressional appropriations for water, sewer and other infrastructure projects statewide.

“We have our hand out anywhere we can,” Good said.

Wrangell has long had problems with its water treatment plant, constructed almost 25 years ago. The plan is to construct a new plant next to the existing facility, replacing the plant’s sand filtration system with a more efficient flotation system that binds pollutants and other material to air bubbles, which rise to the surface for removal.

Plans to rebuild the treatment system date back at least to 2015.

If the Legislature appropriates a state grant, and if it survives a potential veto by Gov. Mike Dunleavy, the borough would like to have the new treatment plant up and running by the end of 2023. The assembly already has approved spending about $1.1 million on engineering and design, which Good said should be completed by November.

The borough would plan to put the project out for bid in January 2023, with construction to start that spring and continue through the fall, he said.

 

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