PORTSMOUTH — For a city attempting a comeback, considerable man-hours and swabs of cash will need to come to the table to fix its problems.
Among its chief concerns during Saturday’s organizational meeting, Portsmouth City Government conversed regarded the significantly needed infrastructure improvements to its water work facilities.
Multiple projects were mentioned, both in terms of expansion and fixes to water pumps, but the work on a new water treatment plant caught the particular attention of the council.
“It’s a scary number when you start talking about $40 million for a project, but with today’s construction dollars that’s where we are,” said City Manager and Director of Water Filtration Sam Sutherland during the Feb. 20 session.
As of the latest, Sutherland said the department is roughly 10% done on the preliminary design phase. The goal is to start construction in the third quarter of 2022 with a completion target by the end of 2025.
The existing plant, built in 1950 and added on to in 1972, will need to be demolished as well once the new one is up and operating, he said, a whole other project in and of itself.
“We know it’s not something that’s going to happen overnight, but the council will need to be cognizant of that fact,” he said. “I’m going to be upfront with you; that’s not going to be a cheap endeavor because of the size of it and the concrete that’s there. It’s an old, big water plant that has a lot of concrete and brick that will have to be dealt with.”
A portion of that $40 million, about $8 to $9 million, would go toward the implementation of a new intake structure and pumps. Work has already begun on one pump, following the emergency passage of legislation Monday.
First mentioned Feb. 8, the council waived the three readings rule to authorize the appropriation of $40,000 for a pump from 1969 after it had failed.
“If we get to the point where another pump fails, it’s going to be outside our comfort zone,” said Sutherland during the City Managers session Feb. 8, referring to the pump that is one of three in the city. “It’s already out of my comfort zone. I like the idea of having three because you never know when something is going to happen.”
That money came out of the city’s water fund, which like five out of the six city’s major operating fund balances finished 2020 better than 2019. An additional $1.1 million ended up in the fund last year, bringing its balance to $1.2 million.
The age of the pumps, along with the plant, has placed the city in a situation where major work is necessary. While smaller repairs have been done throughout the years, Sutherland believes more substantial work should have started years ago.
“In hindsight, maybe 20 years ago we should have built it then,” he said, construction costs much lower then. “I think us trying to be good stewards of trying to keep the plant operating and not spend crazy money. It’s time for the new construction.”
As previously reported by the Portsmouth Daily Times, issues with water breaks precede these conversations where June 2018 saw multiple breaks during a period of four days.
Boil advisories and pressurization issues occurred throughout the city, resulting in residents near the Southern Ohio Medical Center being without water and heading to the plant in New Boston to get tap water.
“This is not just going to go away,” Mayor Kevin E. Johnson said in a separate June 28, 2018 article. “There’s no sense in candy coating it.”
Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3501 ext. 1931, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @pkeckreporter.
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