Construction costs about $4 million higher than initial city estimates

Cartersville council approves $37M-plus in wastewater plant upgrades

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State-mandated improvements to the City of Cartersville's wastewater plant won't come cheap — indeed, the upgrades necessary to complete the nutrient removal project appear to approach $40 million. 

Members of the Cartersville City Council unanimously approved a $37,562,882.64 bid from Atlanta-based contractor Archer Western at Thursday evening's meeting to upgrade the infrastructure at the James R. Stafford Water Pollution Control Plant off Walnut Grove Road.

"This is a topic that we've been discussing for close to three years now, in various formats," said City of Cartersville Water Department Director Bob Jones. "In March of last year, the city was issued a new wastewater discharge permit. In that permit were stricter discharge guidelines, and in order to meet those guidelines long term, we will have to undergo a fairly extensive construction project at the wastewater plant."

Originally constructed in the 1960s, the facility in West Cartersville can only treat "conventional pollutants," as Jones explained to The Daily Tribune News last June.

"Phosphorous, we have no ability to treat, and really, that is what's driving the cost and the complexity of this project," he said. "In previous expansions, all we were doing is adding on more of the equipment we already had. In this particular expansion, we are actually changing most of the equipment that we have to be able to treat phosphorous and meet those new limits … so you're almost building a new plant within the existing plant, and that is something we really have not had to do before."

Among other upgrades, Archer Western is tasked with replacing two five million gallon per day screw pumps with 15 million gallon per day units, modifying two 2.5 million gallon aeration basins and constructing a new aeration blower building and biosolids storage building — along with all the piping needed to support the new wastewater infrastructure.

"There will be a tertiary filtration system, chemical feed systems that don't exist currently," Jones said at Thursday's council meeting. "There will be a computer control system, because the adjustments to the plant will need to be changed in much greater detail and more frequent — it's really beyond the ability of a single operator to manage."

The city received $57.305 million in bonds last summer for various water infrastructure projects, which Jones said would be repaid over approximately 30 years via department revenue from water and sewer sales. 

The $37 million-plus construction bid is about $4 million higher than Jones anticipated for the bond-funded project.

"This is in excess of the number that we had estimated and then discussed for quite a while," he said. "We have identified sources of revenue to pay for that overage and we feel confident that it can be managed … the rate increases that have been put in place for the last several years were in anticipation for this very thing, and the ability, the financial strength we have going into this is what's going to allow us to construct this project, even at this price, and to not have any significant rate shock."

According to City of Cartersville documents, the additional costs of the project will be paid through completed project cost underruns, elimination of lower priority capital projects and water department reserve funds.

Jones said the city has approximately 36 months to complete construction and get the local wastewater plant up to the new state standards.

"This is something that's mandated, that everybody's got to do," said Cartersville Mayor Matt Santini. "This is not a result of us not doing something we were supposed to do, this is just something that's kind of been dropped down on us from upon high. This is a new mandate, that we have got to reach this by this deadline."

But that's not the only expense associated with the project. At Thursday's meeting, council members also unanimously approved an agreement to pay firm Hazen and Sawyer $2,355,078 for full-time, onsite engineering services at the wastewater plant. 

"The next phase of their work will be engineering oversight of the construction process," Jones said. "They will ensure compliance with the specifications that they developed and they essentially ensure that every dollar of value of that $37 million, that there's no corners cut, that they're built as they should be."

Having the firm onsite, Jones said, could potentially help the city recoup some of its construction expenses.  

"As they see opportunities for savings, they will certainly be there to both bring them up to us," he said, "and if necessary, design them on the fly."

The city has already made several investments in wastewater plant expansion, having acquired about 25 acres of land near the facility last year for $5.7 million.

"It's property we intend to use for future plant expansion and possibly for a more centralized administrative office," Jones told The Daily Tribune News. "We're spread among multiple buildings right now and it's not ideal."

Other items of interest from Thursday's council meeting include:

— The council unanimously approved the second reading of an "extra large power incremental growth rider" ordinance, which would offer the city's largest industrial electricity users an incentive rate with a five-year deduction.

— The council unanimously approved acceptance of a grant from the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation, which gives the local fire department $15,232.72 for personal flotation devices, rescue bags, rescue boats and other water emergency response equipment.

— The council unanimously approved a public works request for an amount to not exceed $40,000 to pave a portion of Burnt Hickory Road.

—The council unanimously approved a public works request for $23,511 to purchase 27 new dumpsters.

— The council unanimously approved a parks and recreation department request to purchase an excavator and several attachments for $50,173.01.

— The council unanimously approved a water department request for $23,156.26 to pay Southern Machine and Fabrication to build a a replacement shaft, replace bearings and install new equipment at the city wastewater plant.

— The council unanimously approved a water department request to pay Hickory Ridge $17,280 to clear water and sewer easements between Main Street and Center Road.

— The council unanimously approved a change order for the ongoing high service pump building no. 2 stabilization project in the amount of $22,909, bringing the new contract cost of the project to $1,332,600.25.