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St. Paul selects contractor to drill well

Washington-based company will drill municipal well for $259,000

A drilling company has been selected to begin work on a new municipal well in St. Paul.

After the City Council approved a request for proposals (RFP) in early August, the city received a single bid for the project from Washington-based drilling and pump contractor Holt Services Inc.

The company’s bid for the project came to about $259,000, which is roughly $50,000 more than a cost estimate prepared two years ago for the drilling work.

In its explanation of the difference in cost the city’s water consultant, GSI Solutions, noted that the prior estimate didn’t cover some of the work now included in the bid package, such as erosion control. The consultant chalked the rest of the higher cost up to inflation, an increase in fees and a better economy now than there was in September 2014.

The consultant concluded that “Holt’s bid estimate appears reasonable considering the current economic climate and limited contractor availability,” and the council mostly agreed.

Drilling a new well has been discussed at the council level for years, as the existing well has experienced problems with sand infiltration and has struggled to provide the amount of volume the city needs.

The St. Paul Rodeo Association drilled a well last year to serve various rodeo needs. At the time the rodeo association floated the idea of offering the well for municipal water use, possibly saving the city money on drilling its own new municipal well and perhaps giving the rodeo association leverage in negotiating favorable lease terms with the city.

When several tests came back with high arsenic readings from of the rodeo well – first 9 and then 9.6 parts per billion, when the threshold for drinking water is 10 – that idea was scrapped and is off the table for the time being.

Still, the city’s well could face the same issue as it is sited just 800 feet from the rodeo well and could be drawing from the same aquifer. So the upcoming project will begin with drilling a 6-inch diameter test well down to about 275 feet. If evaluation of that test well proves it’s usable, the work will continue to expand that into a larger-diameter bore hole, varying in size from 20 inches to 16 inches as it gets deeper.

That was described in the request for proposals document that Holt responded to, although there was some disagreement over whether the description of work was clear enough when it was sent out to bid.

Mayor Kim Wallis told the council he felt the language was too vague and that there wasn’t an adequate explanation that the work would stop if the water quality test returned with high levels of arsenic. He was concerned the city could end up either paying for an unusable well (or one that would require an expensive arsenic treatment system) or that the city could face monetary liability if the contractor had to stop work without that possibility being made absolutely clear in the initial project bid.

The mayor’s concerns were not shared by other councilors or city employees, who told Wallis in August the well would not be dug without coordination between the drilling contractor and quality testing consultants.

The work in the current bid only covers the well itself, meaning the piping, pump and other infrastructure connection projects to bring it online would come during a future phase.

The City Council accepted Holt’s bid in early September by a 4-1 vote, with Wallis casting the sole nay vote as he had when the proposal request was sent out. Queried as to his opposition, he clarified he voted against approving the bid primarily due to the concerns he previously aired about the language in the RFP; although he said he would have liked to extend the month-long bid period in order to attract more than one contractor.

The next step is for the city to enter into a contract with Holt. According to the city attorney and public works department, the details that concern Wallis will be hammered out in the contract phase, and did not need to be specified in the RFP.