OROVILLE – Mark Varela was on hand at the Tuesday, Sept. 21 Oroville City Council meeting to go over a list of water-related projects the city wants to address in the near future.
“There are several water system projects that the city is looking at,” said Varela, whose Spokane-based engineering firm Varela and Associates is contracted with by the city for its engineering services.
The projects include rehabilitation of Well 4, which has lost capacity; Well 1 that needs the above ground equipment, such as pumps and electrical upgraded and the North End Water System, which will need major improvements sometime in the future.
“The funding world has changed, I’ve never seen quite the mass of requests for funding from the various sources. It has become more aggressive than in the past,” said Varela.
The engineer said that projects need to show more “readiness to proceed” to stand a better chance of obtaining grants or loans. He also said requirements like the environmental process were becoming more costly and lengthy.
“You should look at the rate at which each project impacts the city so you can feel good about which priority project you want funded,” he said. “As far as the environmental piece goes we want to be able to say we’ve already started the process or invested in it… all those things are good.”
Varela said the city and staff’s first task should be to come up with a strategy in which to apply for funding and establish timelines; second, begin the environmental process and third, identify which preliminary task makes the most sense to do in order to define the project further.
“The biggest investment will be in the environmental process, we can do it in house,” he said.
In the case of the city’s wells, Varela said the city should consider gathering data to show the old wells will last before investing in new pumping equipment.
“You do that in advance and it makes your application stronger,” he said. “For the North End System we need to look at what issues we can address now to move the project forward in a stronger position.”
In summary Varela said, “The competition is so tight the way things are going now it’s pretty tough. This year we got five out of the 18 block grants awarded in the state, so we know what to do. We need to start investing now.”
Rod Noel, Superintendent of Public Works, agreed with Varela that being “ready to proceed” gives the applicant a much greater chance of being funded.
He said Oroville’s Well 1 was the city’s oldest and produces about 500 gallons per minute. He said that there are three wells in the area of the soccer field park and that they are close enough together that it has turned into a “well field” and drilling new wells nearby would not produce any more water.
“As it is each of the three wells can produce between 500 and 600 gallons per minute,” Noel said. “The wells all produce at capacity without affecting the others.”
Noel said that Well 1 was key to the city’s system and has limped through the summer. He said the building electrical were in bad condition.
“Everything needs attention,” he said. “With Well 4 we may try to clean it ourselves and try to get it back to capacity by contracting an outside company,” he said.
Varela said, “Getting funding is tough, but there is one bright spot, the city gets good value now that the bids are coming in about 30 percent lower with the recession.
Mayor Chuck Spieth said it looked like the city was ready to proceed based on the recommendations of city staff and Varela’s firm.
“I think it is money well spent,” said Councilman Tony Koepke.
“Infrastructure is always important,” added Councilwoman Neysa Roley.
In other business, Noel updated the council on the Main Street Pedestrian Project. He said that the contractor was making changes to the project to ensure that the ramps adhered to the Americans with Disabilities Act and that some of the sidewalks and curbs were being changed to better deal with water that was tending to pool after a heavy rain, as well as fixing entrances on the south end. The asphalt that was cut out and replaced is not thick enough either, so it will have to be redone. The concrete wall near Oroville’s Veterans Memorial Park will also be extended to deal with part of the hillside that has been sloughing off.
The original contractor will pay to bring the project up to the original specifications. The new changes requested by the state that were not in that contract will be funded from other sources. The $92,728 to make the changes requested by the state Department of Transportation that were not in the original contract will come from ARA federal.
“Originally we were awarded about $1 million in ARA funds, but they took back about $400,000 so there was no room to go over budget,” said Kathy Jones. “The additional funding comes from money left over that was not spent in other projects around the state.”