Many valves, pipes and devices inside the 40-year-old West Gloucester Water Treatment Plant have outlived their useful life expectancy by about 15 years, public works officials say.
Last week, workers cleaning the offline plant found a part in one of four sedimentation tanks had broken. Until it's fixed, the plant will remain offline.
Since the city commissioned it in 1969, the plant hasn't seen major upgrades, said city Environmental Engineer Larry Durkin. And until recently, he added, it wasn't well-maintained, either.
Because of that, the Department of Public Works will put a $12.4 million loan authorization request before the City Council's Budget and Finance subcommittee on Thursday, with the lion's share of the money pegged for repairs at the West Gloucester plant.
The loan for the West Gloucester repairs marks last piece of a four-part, $40 million upgrade to Gloucester's water system, according to Public Works Director Mike Hale. When the debt comes due on first three parts, the city's water rate will rise by around 23 percent, or about $1.50 to $2 per 1,000 gallons used. Information as to what the new authorization will add to that wasn't available as of Tuesday.
Budget and Finance Chairman Paul McGeary, however, said Tuesday the work has to get done. By the time the city shifts debt on the last phase of water work, it should have retired other debt obligations. If the city waits on upgrades, the fixes won't get any cheaper and the need will be more urgent.
"One has to give credit to Mayor Carolyn Kirk and Mike Hale for taking the bit in the teeth and tackling the infrastructure problems," he said.
The work started with emergency repairs at the Babson Water Treatment Plant after a failure there caused a boil water order in 2009. The projects include the Department of Public Works replacing water mains in neighborhoods around Centennial Avenue, on Washington Street, and replacement of and repair to a standpipe at Plum Cove and Blackburn Industrial Park, and the construction of a new pump station on Washington Street in Annisquam.
Regardless of the subcommittee and City Council's vote on the new loan, Durkin said Public Works will need to put more than $30,000 into that broken sedimentation tank. In those 200 foot-long tanks, heavy particles in the reservoir water are drawn out and sink to the bottom, where they're scraped off by what amounts to a series of large razor blades, called flights, on two bicycle chains. In that one tank, one of the chains has popped off, and set the blades askew.
Tha means, Durkin said, they can't do their job.
"We could run half the plant, but the problem is the plant needs to meet the city's demand of 4, 5 million gallons per day," Durkin said.
He expects West Gloucester to be up and running again in September, and if the council approves funds for the upgrades, down again in December for repairs. Right now, the city's running off a full Babson Reservoir. West Gloucester went off-line in March after running through the winter.
The authorization headed to Budget and Finance on Thursday covers upgrades at West Gloucester and Babson treatment plants, a second river crossing for the water system, additional work around Centennial Avenue, and repairs to the Babson Reservoir dam.
If City Council approves it, the loan woul pay to replace the 40-year-old flights and chains, upgrade the raw water pumps and intake valve, relocate the discharge pipeline, a new transformer, and upgrade the plant control system. Hale said the upgrades will conclude in 2014.
Under the loan proposal, Public Works budgeted $5.5 million for upgrades to the treatment plants, $2.5 million for the river crossing, $1.5 million for more work around Centennial Avenue, and $2.5 million for dam repairs; $400,000 goes toward engineering and permitting.
Durkin said the second river crossing gives the city a redundant water supply should anything happen to the 100-year-old Spooner Tunnel under the Blynman Bridge. The work around Centennial Avenue will include a pipe that runs near the high school playing fields that will connect to the river crossing once it's done.
Everything but the dam repairs and engineering for the project will come out of the state's drinking water revolving fund, which offers loans with interest rates at 2 percent.
"It is important that these projects receive funding as they are necessary to safeguard public health, public safety environmental and regulatory compliance and ensure water supply adequacy," Durkin said.
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.