“Shovel ready!” RL looked ahead to help town water system

By: 
Eleanor Guerrero
CCN Senior Reporter
Thursday, August 8, 2019
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Photo by Alastair Baker
The Hagen Water project has become a familiar summer sight in Red Lodge.

It wasn’t by chance that the City of Red Lodge obtained a $1.6 million loan from the State of Montana. Mayor Bill Larson and Public Works Director Jim Bushnell made it clear that it was strategic planning. Larson said, “We had a brown water problem on Hagen. We wanted to expedite it.”

Bushnell said, “In 2015, we looked forward. We knew we had a dead-end line at North 2nd Street.” He said dead-end lines are never good. “It was important to expedite (repairs). We got the engineering plans done and Great Western to apply for us. That really got us that funding.” 

“Great Western did the application for us,” said Larson. “Jim and I felt a year and a half ago to expedite this.” He said because the legislature was meeting last year it was a good opportunity to get that application in fast. “It gets us on the front line. Thanks to Great Western we were one of the first (applications) in on time!” 

He said the need for the water pipe project was actually identified in 2014. “We completed 90 percent of the plans and specifications in 2017.”

But it wasn’t that simple. They had to see it coming and take the steps prior to any assurance of a loan. The State offered a limited amount to a limited number of communities under its State Revolving Fund or SRF loans. 

What gave Red Lodge the edge? “We were ready to put pipe in the ground!” said Bushnell. “We were shovel ready!” The difference was that at the time of application, the city was ready to go. “We were already putting pipe in the ground when we got the letter we received it (the loan was received in 2018)!” said Bushnell. An updated list of community recipients was only released last week by the state.

Larson said, “During the design process, we also worked with Jim to pull out a portion of the improvements on East 2nd Avenue that the Public Works Department completed with their own crew (lowering the cost).”

Larson added, “Jim and I work really good together!”

Bushnell said, “In my experience, if you have the engineering done and you’re ready to go, you’re more apt to get funding and grants.” In this particular case, “You don’t have to use it for two years.” He noted, “The odds are pretty good. In my experience, talking with other cities, it’s the way to go.”

The last big water project was in 1996-that was the date of the preliminary engineering report. “Hagen was never done,” said Bushnell.

The original repair and replacement for the City of Red Lodge water system project was $2.7 million. When they got into the digging up of old lines, as is often the case when dealing with century old pipes and solutions, they ran into surprises and further problems not anticipated. 

On 13th Street there were cast iron pipes. On 10th Street, “the ‘as builts’ (old plans showing completion) don’t tell us as it’s built!” said Larson. For example, “We ran into 4 inch pipe at Hagen.” 

Bushnell commented, “Old valves don’t work.” A force main had to be installed on 2nd St. to bring extra pressure to a pipe to do the job. Pumps or compressors located in a lift station provide the energy for wastewater conveyance in force mains. It was long overdue. “When I took over,” said Bushnell, “I had two priorities. A force main and the Hagen line. What they did a hundred years ago doesn’t work today!”

They had to add additional work to take care of these new complications. “We wanted 6 inch not 4 inch pipes that were not included in the original bid,” said Larson. He praised contractor J.R. Civil. “They are awesome to work with!” Each time an obstacle surprised them and needed to be fixed, “They said they’ll do it. They don’t hesitate a bit.” 

Other unexpected things Bushnell said they discovered upon digging included old horseshoes and a piece of an old wrench.” But to his relief in this old cowboy town, “No skeletons!”

Because they already were ahead of the game, finished the project on time and met all conditions, they qualified for a State discount of $500,000 loan forgiveness. That brought the total cost of the project well under the projected budget of $2.7M to $2.1M.  

Part of those state conditions resulted in the decision to raise water rates. “There is a certain percentage of the median income that makes the target rate. We met that threshold.” It was part of the Capital Improvement Plan to get the rates up to where they should be to support the city’s water needs. 

Great Western provided the research to determine what was needed to get grants and loans. “There’s an amount of work that we go through,” said Larson, to get the go ahead for the project before they even look at the plans. “The State goes through it, their Bond Council goes through it to make sure we can make the payments. We put $280,000 of the Resort Tax towards it.” He believes that helped make it for the State. “It showed we had a little skin in the game!” 

At this point the last part, the whole Hagen project should be completed by the end of the month. 

Bushnell said, “that the real last major line we have. We do have smaller ones, a dead one…we will try to loop all in over the next few years.”

They feel confident that being proactive has saved the town and its citizens a lot of future grief. 

The loan repayment according to Larson, is already there. “It will all come out of the Water Enterprise Fund. Every month (payments are taken from town water/sewer bills). Water and Sewer Enterprise Funds have to be self-sustaining. That’s why water rates are tied to getting the loan.” He praised the town clerks for helping the community make this crucial transition. “Our clerks work really well with people having problems putting them on a payment plan. They started taking credit cards. The clerks do things to help out the community.”

Bushnell agreed, “We want to get there (paid bills) no matter how slow it takes.” Regarding the city taking credit cards he observed it was time. “That’s the way the world’s going!” 

At this point Larson said, “We’re in the process of updating the Capital Improvement Plan.” The newest repairs needed will be included in the prioritized list. “And we’ll start working from there.”

Larson praised residents. “I think it’s going great. The challenge has been mostly with tie-ins. We really appreciate our citizens being so understanding with the project. They’ve been great!” 

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The Carbon County News

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