City starts water plant repair process

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By the numbers

Water plant upgrade contract price: $8,102,000

Total spent to date: $8,433,140

Total unplanned expenses: $331,140

New repairs: $70,380

• City officials plan to seek damages from Tetra Tech, the engineering firm hired for the plant upgrade, but do not know how much they will ask for. The request likely will include at least $20,000 of the new repairs.

The city's long-gestating repair process at the Craig water plant may come to a close within the next two months.

On Monday, City Engineer Bill Earley notified Cortez-based Southwest Contracting that the company could start work at the plant to fix the problems with its raw water and backwash pumps whenever it's ready.

The go-ahead came two months after the City Council decided to follow recommendations given by Denver-based Tetra Tech, the engineering firm hired for an $8 million upgrade at the plant.

The city plans to pay $70,380, which includes installing new computer control systems for each group of pumps, as well as $20,000 to rebuild two raw water pumps that have been damaged.

"Hopefully, we can have everything solved in the next month or two," Earley said. "I don't know that that will happen. They may have to order some materials, and I don't know how long that will take."

The raw water pumps have been failing since the plant came online in early 2008 following the upgrade, which will double the plant's output capacity. Officials initiated the project with an eye toward future growth.

The computer control systems, otherwise known as actuators, will control backpressure in the two pump lines.

Earley said this will allow the plant to run at full capacity for the first time.

The lack of adequate pressure has caused the raw water pumps - which move water from the Yampa River into the plant's treatment cycle - to shake themselves apart.

City officials previously billed Southwest Contracting for two pump repairs last year, totaling $20,000.

The backwash pump system - which clean filters at the end of the treatment cycle by pushing water backward through the pipelines - was never fully installed.

Tetra Tech designed a system for a smaller motor than the city had on hand, Earley said. The project's electrician refused to hook everything up because it would violate electrical code.

About $1,800 of the money now going to Southwest Contracting is for a smaller motor to plug into the backwash pumps.

Michael Rothberg, Tetra Tech senior vice president, presented his company's solutions for the plant's various problems to the City Council at its meeting Feb. 10.

Rothberg said his company made mistakes when designing Craig's new water plant and that those mistakes caused the pumps' problems. However, he added those mistakes did not amount to design flaws or negligence.

All of the repairs now being paid for by the city came from Rothberg's recommendations to the council that night.

Earley said the city waited two months before following through because he and other staff members wanted to verify Rothberg's conclusions.

"We had some other, legitimate ideas that we thought would possibly work, for cheaper, and be almost foolproof," Earley said.

The city hired Ron Cloninger, a Parachute resident who got to know local officials when he oversaw the Elkhead Reservoir expansion a few years ago, for $5,000 to get a second opinion.

Cloninger looked at the city's ideas, including two proposals to scrap the current pump system and use a different one, but none of them panned out.

The city's "almost foolproof" system wouldn't meet the capacity demand officials wanted, and new pumps were too expensive, Earley said.

As the plant upgrade itself winds down, the city still is negotiating a financial settlement with Tetra Tech.

After an executive session Tuesday night, the council advised city staff to pay Tetra Tech $25,000, which had been withheld because of problems at the plant.

However, officials plan to ask the engineering firm to pay for damages at the plant they feel were caused by Tetra Tech's flawed engineering plan.

City Manager Jim Ferree said that request will include the $20,000 being paid to Southwest Contracting for raw pump repairs, and possibly other items not yet finalized.

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