Details begin to surface during special improvement district public meeting
By Annette Tait
Previously undisclosed options and the need for greater background and historical data tempered the presentation made by contracted city engineer Mark Johnson, Ulteig Engineers, at a public meeting held to discuss Ulteig’s recommendations for sanitary sewer, water system, and street replacement in the City of Center’s new special improvement district.
The meeting was scheduled by the city council after a number of brief presentations during council meetings did not provide the detail needed for council to make an informed decision on how to proceed. Most recently, at the September city council meeting, Johnson provided council with a $5.7 million estimate for replacing failed or poor sanitary sewers and adjacent streets, with an initial investment of $456,000 in engineering costs. Council members expressed concerns about the cost of the proposed project, the burden to taxpayers over the lengthy term of repayment, and the need for greater clarity and detail in the scope of work proposed.
Home rule charter
As the proposed infrastructure work involves the special improvement district, which in turn depends on adoption of a home rule charter, council began the meeting with the second reading of the charter. The second reading included changes made after the first reading in September, which deleted the ability for businesses to retain a small portion of the tax as a type of handling fee. Council approved the charter; it will become effective Jan. 1, 2016.
Johnson started his presentation with a map that showed council members Ulteig’s assessments of the three infrastructure systems: water, sewer, and streets.
“We’ve done the investigations and collected information,” Johnson said. “The purpose of the investigation was to identify what you’ve got—both broken, not broken, and anything in between. The map you’ve got laying out on the table is a graphic display of what we’ve boiled it down to.”
Johnson began with the water system, explaining that the city’s system is divided into two pressure zones, with the north zone served by the water tower and the south zone served by the water tank near the industrial park. He noted issues identified with several hydrants that don’t meet what Johnson referred to as state standards of maintaining a flow of 20 pounds per square inch (psi). Johnson recommended looking into rearranging configuration of the zones so the tower feeds the industrial park instead of the tank, as the tower’s higher elevation should increase the rate of flow. He noted that his recommendation would need to be computer modeled first, to ensure it is a viable solution.
“If you exclude the industrial park, the city’s water system is okay,” Johnson said, “it gets the job done.”
This statement appeared to contradict the assessment Johnson provided council at its September meeting, when he told council members “the city’s water system does not meet state standards, and that it never has.”
The question of standards was also raised at the September council meeting, when Johnson referred to the 10 State Standards, a uniform set of standards for water, wastewater, sewage systems, and public swimming areas adopted by Great Lakes Upper Mississippi River Board, an organization the public health and environmental managers representing Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, and Ontario, Canada. Johnson was asked if the 10 State Standards had been adopted by the state of North Dakota, which would require compliance, or if the 10 State Standards are simply a resource for the North Dakota Department of Health Division of Water Quality.
“The state uses the 10 State Standards as guidelines,” Johnson said. “North Dakota is not one of the states that designed and maintains them. It’s a really good set of standards, and it gets updated about every 10 years.”
Lively discussion ensued regarding the condition of the city’s water system, whether the system meets state requirements, the individuals Johnson had spoken with at the Department of Health, and statements made about potential funding sources. No resolutions were reached; if anything, additional questions surfaced.
“Just so everyone knows, the city didn’t direct you to do this,” Morast said to Johnson, noting that Ulteig approached the city with the offer of providing assistance finding solutions to fix the aging infrastructure. “You came to us with the recommendation.”
With the water system portion of the presentation complete, council was ready to move on to reports on the other components.
“Where else do we have issues?” Olin asked. “This right here [the water system] shouldn’t be $5.7 million.”
Johnson began with an overview of Ulteig’s investigation into the sanitary sewer system, emphasizing that information had been collected using cameras to televise the condition of the system.
“The graphics are relative to what’s there, not absolutes,” he said. “And there still needs to be discussion about what exactly is going to be done. What you want to do and what are the limits.”
Johnson explained that some areas currently marked on the map as failed may not be quite that bad, as assessments of condition can be subjective. When asked for examples, Johnson indicated Market Street from Lincoln to Wilcox, and also noted that Square Butte St. has a section “that’s not real good.”
“Does the sewer system parallel the water system in complying with state regulations?” asked city resident Julia Vigue, referring to Johnson’s earlier statements.
“The sewer is kind of a self-fixing system,” Johnson replied. “It either works or it doesn’t.”
At that point, Olin asked Johnson to provide a definition for a “failed” sewer line. He noted that Ulteig’s definition of “failed” is in the report provided to council at its September meeting. Ulteig’s definition includes visible cracks, misalignments, or broken seals; laterals that are leaking or allowing infiltration into the main; significant sags, bumps or protrusions; root damage that is beyond repair; and deposits that will cause backups.
A-1 Sewer & Drain, Inc. Co-owner Josh Franke also spoke up. Franke’s company was contracted by the city to televise the condition of the sewer system and provide the information they gathered to Ulteig.
“Anyone who is certified to televise sewer is certified through NASSCO,” he said, referring to the National Association of Sewer Service Companies. “A failed pipe is considered being broke at [clock positions] 12, 6, 3, and 9, and starting to collapse. [When a] pipe is failed, it will collapse and be unusable within five years.”
Morast asked Franke if he agreed with Johnson’s definition.