January 26, 2011 - Bend Bulletin - City Council investing in cost-saving water study

Feb 23, 2011

January 26, 2011 - Bend Bulletin - City Council investing in cost-saving water study

City Council investing in cost-saving water study

By Nick Grube / The Bulletin
Published: January 26. 2011 4:00AM PST

City of Bend officials hope an $82,000 investment they make today will result in some cost savings in the future on a $58 million to $73 million reconstruction of the Bridge Creek water system.

The money will be spent on a study in which an independent engineering firm will analyze the various components of city’s surface water project, including a 10-mile-long pipeline, a new treatment plant and a possible hydropower facility, to determine if there is a more cost-effective and practical way to design and build it.

Whether the firm actually finds any cost savings remains to be seen. If it does, those would likely be passed along to ratepayers who, as of today, can expect to see their monthly water bill increase by as much as 8.5 percent to 9.1 percent a year over the next five years to help pay for the Bridge Creek project.

“One of the hopes here is that there are some substantial cost savings,” Bend City Councilor Mark Capell said. “The goal here is to go through every assumption and make sure it’s correct and look at all the options with an independent set of eyes.”

Bend must upgrade its Bridge Creek water treatment system by 2012 in order to meet a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requirement to treat for Cryptosporidium, a microorganism that can cause human illness. It also must replace about 10 miles of aging pipeline that delivers water from Bridge Creek, near Tumalo Falls west of Bend, to a current treatment facility before it’s distributed to town.

Together, the new pipeline and treatment plant that would meet the federal mandate are estimated to cost $58 million. There’s also the possibility the city will add a hydropower facility that would bring the total project cost to about $73 million.

Capell, who has been one of the most vocal council supporters of the project, said these numbers are only preliminary projections and have a built-in 35 percent cost contingency. He also said the bids that have been coming in for city projects have been lower than engineering estimates, in part due to the current state of the economy.

He said he didn’t know where the best opportunity for cost-savings was, but added that he was optimistic about the engineering firm developing creative solutions no one has thought of yet.

“You never know what they’ll come up with,” Capell said. “Hopefully they’ll come up with something pretty cool.”

The city hired Robinson, Stafford & Rude Inc., of Gulfport, Fla., to perform the value engineering study. It beat out two other firms that submitted bids for the project. It does not have any other connections to the project.

Validating estimates

According to the city’s contract with Robinson, Stafford & Rude, the firm will begin by validating the current cost estimates. After that, it will perform a 40-hour value engineering workshop to come up with new ideas to improve the Bridge Creek water project and then prepare a report of its findings.

Public Works Director Paul Rheault said that report won’t be completed until sometime in March. He also said it’s too soon to tell what parts of the upgrade might be the most likely for design changes.

“They’ll evaluate everything,” Rheault said. “They may come back and say, ‘You’re proposing a 36-inch pipe and one of the alternatives you might want to look at is a 34-inch pipe.’ They’ll give you the pros and cons on all these different types of things.”

Report will not abandon current plan

He added that the value engineering study will not suggest the city should abandon its surface water upgrade in favor of another alternative, such as groundwater.

“They will work with what’s before them now,” he said. “And in that context they will evaluate everything that’s been approved.”

The last time the city had an independent firm perform a value engineering study was during the planning stages for an ongoing $34 million upgrade to the wastewater treatment plant.

Bend Project Engineer Jim Wodrich said that study found the city could change the way it planned to update the plant and still increase capacity by adding peanut-sized pieces of plastic — sometimes called “doohickeys” or “bug condos” by city staff — to the system to help process waste. The idea was the plastic would provide more surface area for microorganisms that consume the organic materials in the waste.

While this change in the city’s plans didn’t necessarily result in immediate cost savings, Wodrich said it allowed the city to delay building more tanks for processing waste because all treatment plant operators needed to do was add more of the plastic “bug condos” to the system. He said this prevented the city from overbuilding its infrastructure before population increases would have demanded that extra capacity.

“The goal is to try and see where you can cut costs or make a project less expensive from an operation standpoint or a capital standpoint,” Wodrich said of value engineering. “In this day and age you just can’t afford to have a stranded investment. What can we do so we can only build what we need to meet future demands and not get overextended?”

Nick Grube can be reached at 541-633-2160 or at ngrube@bendbulletin.com.

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