New water treatment plant on track to go to bid in February

The design for Wrangell’s new water treatment plant, which will improve water quality and accommodate potential population growth, is over halfway complete.

During an Oct. 25 borough assembly work session, DOWL engineers reported that the project is on track to accept construction bids by February 2023 and that the bidding window will likely last for six weeks. “If we have a longer bid window, we’re more likely to get more than one contractor interested,” said engineer Chase Nelson. “We get bids in, we evaluate them and we have to make the selection based on the lowest bid.”

The earliest possible construction start date for the estimated 12-month project is April 2023, but until the borough finalizes its plans and receives bids, the date is speculative.

The project has just over $15 million in total funding available, with about $1 million of that amount coming from borough funds and the rest from state and federal money. Based on the results of a forthcoming cost estimate, the borough may have to request supplemental funding from state or federal sources.

The new system will upgrade the treatment plant’s manual chemical-dosing processes to a computer-monitored system that will make the town’s water “more consistently treated,” Blake Rider, of RMC Engineers, told assembly members.

It will also include a new process for removing small organic solids called “dissolved air floatation.” A constant stream of tiny bubbles will flow through the plant’s water tanks, sticking to organic matter and floating it to the surface, where it can be removed.

“You’re basically getting a new ‘operator’ and you’re going to train that ‘guy’ to do all the stuff you didn’t want to do anyway,” added Rider, referring to the automated chemical-dosage processes that will be installed.

According to Public Works Director Tom Wetor, the current plant’s manual dosage system makes some fluctuation in the water’s chemical levels inevitable. The borough’s water use “ramps up” in the afternoon and can change significantly throughout the day, depending on industrial activity. Water use decreases at night, but the chemical levels cannot be readjusted until public works employees return to the plant for the morning shift. “There should be less instances of ever tasting chlorine in your water,” said Wetor.

The new plant will also make the community more prepared for unexpected events or future population growth, Wetor added. The facility’s increased water storage capacity could be used to put out a fire or act as a stopgap during a water main break, though it would not be sufficient to last through a longer-term event, like a drought.

The facility’s increased flow rate will also allow the community to accommodate the expansion that it hopes to see in the coming years. “If we develop the (former) Institute property and the mill property, if Trident ever comes back, those things will have a significant impact on our water usage,” Wetor said.

According to Patrick Haney, of Stanely Consultants, the current plant’s flow rate of 7,000 gallons per day could increase threefold in the updated facility.

Though some elements of the new facility will be streamlined, other elements will become more complex. Public works staff will have to perform additional maintenance and chemical-dosing processes. Because the sewage treatment system will also undergo major changes in the future to add disinfection — and because public works manages both the water treatment and sewer systems — the department may recommend that the borough assembly approve another operator position.

Wetor is not yet certain of the impact that another operator may have on utility rates. The borough has agreed to review utility rates each year to ensure that large, unexpected rate hikes do not recur. The borough finance department, city manager, and public works department will “try and determine rates that allow us to address the problems that need to be fixed while also being mindful of the burden this will create for community members,” Wetor said in a written statement. “We are hopeful that this year was the worst of it in getting our rates in line with what is needed … and we are committed to getting information out to the community sooner.”


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