West Linns $5 million payment also on hold

The Lake Oswego City Council will stay the course with the most expensive public works initiative in the city’s history.

For now.

The council voted Tuesday to delay approving some major expenditures related to water infrastructure projects, including $5 million that would go to the city of West Linn for using the public streets.

The vote has been postponed until the council’s next meeting on March 5.

Council members said they wanted more time to digest hundreds of pages of findings and conditions finalized Monday morning by the West Linn City Council.

“I don’t even know what the West Linn conditions for the conditional-use permits are,” Mayor Kent Studebaker said, stressing he wanted more time to wade through the information. “I’d like at least an opportunity to do that.”

Council President Mike Kehoe agreed.

“At the end of the day, we’re probably going down this path.” At the same time, he said, “This is such an important decision and such a huge, huge impact for the citizens. I’d appreciate it if we could have a couple of weeks to read through this stuff.”

The decision was unanimous to wait on approving equipment contracts as well as conditions attached to permits from West Linn, where Lake Oswego’s existing water treatment plant is located.

But some council members voiced concerns about holding up the overall process. Too much delay could lead to more costs, and that could lead to even higher water rates for Lake Oswego and Tigard citizens.

“We’ve discussed so many ways to try to save money,” Councilor Jon Gustafson said. “The thought of risking the construction schedule and potentially having to accelerate the contractor’s schedule — I’m worried about the potential change order.”

Lake Oswego-Tigard Water Partnership costs have ballooned over the past two years. The latest figures have closed in on $250 million, a cost shared by the two cities, with Tigard shouldering a slightly bigger burden. The partnership plans to double the amount of water drawn from the Clackamas River, replace an existing river intake facility in Gladstone, replace the water treatment plant in West Linn, build a new water reservoir in Lake Oswego and expand a Tigard pump station, in addition to installing bigger pipes.

With the West Linn City Council’s recent approval of the water treatment plant and pipeline, the water partnership can move ahead with the work. Delaying too much could push back a contractor’s schedule by a year because of limits on in-water work time, threatening the partnership's overall timeline. The goal is to have the new system online by July 2016.

Lake Oswego council members discussed some ways to reduce costs and ultimately relieve some of the burden on water customers. For instance, the city might sell excess water capacity to another entity looking to buy water or sell more than initially allocated to Tigard.

Some council members questioned whether costs could be curtailed by cutting certain project components, such as the chosen method of water treatment — ozonation — or eliminating an extra pipeline weld estimated to cost a half-million to a million dollars.

But eliminating ozone treatment — intended to improve water taste, to reduce the use of chlorine as a disinfectant and, as a result, harmful byproducts, and to remove certain chemicals that could be regulated in the future — could require a plant redesign and force the West Linn permitting process to start over.

Project Director Joel Komarek also advised against reducing the number of pipeline welds.

“We know we have challenging geology through which those pipelines will pass — not only in West Linn but in our own community,” he said. Repairing or replacing the pipeline following a major earthquake would cost 10 times the amount of putting a second weld on the pipes, he said, adding: “Water supply will be critical in any kind of emergency response.”

Doing nothing isn’t an option, he said, especially now that officials know about seismic vulnerabilities at the water plant. While conservation has helped relieve pressure on the water system, it won’t stop aging and decaying conditions of the pipes, pump stations and water treatment plant.

Komarek said he expects to find cost savings when receiving bids. The best bid on one of the projects recently came in $1 million under the work’s estimated costs.

Even with the price hikes, he thinks the partnership remains the most cost-effective option for upgrading the city’s drinking water system, built in the 1960s with mostly federal funds. Partnering with Tigard spreads out the costs of replacing Lake Oswego’s system.

“It doesn’t change the reality that a partnership will provide significant benefits relative to any ‘go-it-alone’ scenario,” Komarek said.

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