Public Works Discusses Major Projects

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cityhall211111By Terry Rogers

On Monday, August 5, 2013, the Milford Public Works Committee met to discuss several major projects facing the city in the near future. According to City Manager, Richard Carmean, ten projects need the attention of the committee, including electrical, road, water and sewer upgrades throughout the city.

Rick Carmean of the City of Milford Electric Department explained some of the challenges the department has had running electric lines to the new substation, located near the new solar plant on Route 14.

“We have been somewhat frustrated at the difficulty getting easements and right-of-ways to get these lines in place,” City Manager Carmean explained. Rick Carmean explained the necessity of creating the new substation as well.

“In the summer, we are dealing with 48 to 50 percent capacity, and it would only take one accident on Elk’s Lodge Road that takes out one of those big poles, and half the town would be without electricity,” Mr. Carmean explained. “If that happens, it could take us several hours to get electric back up and running. With the new substation, we are able to split the town in half, basically at the river, which will help us avoid system overload or emergencies.”

Another item on the agenda at the meeting was an offer from the Office of Drinking Water of a bond for $3.5 million at 1.5 percent interest over 30 years to be used for water infrastructure in the city. Eric Retzlaff of Davis, Bowen & Friedel explained that one area where this money could be used was to hire a contractor to check, replace and repair isolation check valves that are critical to the water system.

“Isolation valves are used to isolate areas when there is breakage, leaks or we need to flush the lines to prevent significant water loss,” Mr. Retzlaff explained. “There are 2500 of them throughout the city, and some of them are large enough that it could take 40 turns of a wrench to open and close them. When the valves need replacement, the cost is dependent on their size and location.” Mr. Retzlaff explained that valves can be located anywhere throughout the 82 miles of water main in the city, including under roads and highways. Brad Dennehy, Milford Public Works Director, reported that these valves perform a critical function.

“In the early spring, we had a situation with a water main break in front of Mills Brothers that took us three or four hours to repair,” Mr. Dennehy explained. “We couldn’t get the valves to shut down and ended up cutting the water off to Mills Brothers on a Friday night until after 9 PM. This put a hardship on a local business, and the overtime alone for that repair was significant.

In addition to the valve repair and replacement, Mr. Carmean said that the loan funds could be used for distribution system flooding and upgrades to wells at the Seabury Plant. In that plant, Redner’s has agreed to pay half to replace the well, which is shallow and subject to groundwater contamination, but the city must pay the other half. The loan would allow the city to take that well out of service and redevelop others in the plant to improve the water supply.

In order for the city to agree to the loan, a referendum would have to be held to get citizen approval. The proposed debt service would mean an increase to users of Milford’s water system of $0.28 per 1,000 gallons. The average residential water bill is $13.50 per month, and the increase would mean bills would rise to $14.68 per month, an increase of $1.18 per month. Mr. Carmean explained that the city could use water and sewer reserves to fund the projects, but that would lower the reserve fund to the minimum of $1 million, and would not leave them funds should there be an emergency.

“The thing is, this is very low interest, and if we deplete our reserves then have a crisis come up, we will have to borrow the money at a much higher rate,” Mr. Carmean said. “We do not have the staff in our water department to perform the valve checks and repairs properly, and there is no question that we have to get that done.” Councilman Bryan Shupe commented that he imagined that Mr. Dennehy did not have the manpower to complete that project.

“There are six guys in the water department, but frankly this is a very specialized service,” Mr. Dennehy explained. “We will have to bring in contractors who are experienced in this type of work, and the guys will learn what to do, but right now they have never done it.”

Road construction were other projects discussed at the meeting. The city learned this week that any road construction requires handicap accessible access at every intersection, and this can increase costs by as much as 50 percent. This is a DelDOT regulation based on how the state agency interprets the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations. The road and sidewalk construction projects that the city needs to perform are estimated to cost approximately $1.2 million, and the state will cover $833,500 of those costs.

The final project discussed at the meeting was the Shawnee Acres Waste Water Pumping Station, which is almost at capacity. This means that it will be difficult for the city to approve further development in the area, and it may also be difficult to connect current residents to the city’s sewer system without upgrading the pumping station. The total cost of the project is $1.18 million, which Milford can perform using reserve funds.

“We can use funds in reserves and then require anyone who builds in the area, or who wants to connect to the system, to pay a fee to recover the costs of the upgrade,” Mr. Carmean explained. “That is a pretty typical process that we have done in the past to recoup our costs.” There was some discussion about running sewage lines to lands scheduled for proposed development, such as Innovation Park, but both Councilman Shupe and Public Works Chairman, Councilman Owen Brooks, both stated that although they were in favor of upgrading the pumping station, they were not comfortable expending taxpayer dollars to install sewage lines to undeveloped land.

When asked how long it would take to update the pumping station, Mr. Retzlaff said approximately two years. Councilman Brooks will present any items discussed to Milford City Council on Monday, August 12, 2013, at the next council meeting.