By Jesse Wood
The Boone Town Council will hold a special meeting on Monday, Aug. 22, at 5 p.m. in the Council Chambers at 1500 Blowing Rock Road to discuss and act on items related to the town’s water intake project on the South Fork of the New River near Todd.
“The purpose of the meeting is to consider and potentially approve certain items relating to the water intake project construction bids, including: possible award of bid(s), approval of contractor negotiations, approval of recommendations from the engineer, and approval for submitting a letter to USDA requesting additional funds,” according to the meeting’s notice issued on Friday morning.
At Boone Town Council’s monthly meeting on Thursday, Town Manager John Ward said that staff is working on meeting the September USDA deadline for the water intake project. He noted that the town has received bids for the project, completed negotiations and has engineering recommendations.
“The called special meeting would be to consider the total project price for the water intake project and to look at a full picture of the cost of the entire project,” Ward said, adding that Public Works Director Rick Miller and Finance Director Amy Davis would preview counsel with an outline of “payments and different things, both historical and increasing pricing involving the bids.”
Ward didn’t mention any dollar figures during Thursday’s meeting.
In 2008, 73 percent of town voters approved the $25-million bond referendum for a new intake system, which will be capable of handling up to 4 million gallons of water per day. Two years later, the Boone Town Council accepted a $20.5 million loan from the USDA to finance the project, which included about 63,000 linear feet of line from the proposed intake in Todd to the town’s water treatment plan on Deck Hill Road, according to a 2008 article in High Country Press.
So far the Town of Boone has spent $3,956,346 on the water intake project, Ward told the High Country Press a couple weeks ago. Ward, who walked into this project as he was hired by the town in Sept. 2014, said that this figure includes engineering services, land and easement acquisition and legal fees. None of the expenses authorized by the council to date include any of the federal money, Ward noted.
“Initially, the land acquisition and legal [fees] were not anticipated to be so high when it was anticipated that the DOT could certify their own right of way. When they could not, this increased the cost for the project since the Town of Boone then had to obtain additional easements along the roadways, where the raw water line is proposed to be installed,” Ward said in an email.
The Watauga Democrat reported earlier this summer that the last cost estimate shared by the town for the water intake project was $31.4 million.
The project is divided in four parts:
- Division 1: water treatment plant renovations
- Division 2: raw water intake pump station
- Division 3: raw water booster pump station
- Division 4: transmission line
This summer, bids on the project came in above the projected budget provided by WK Dickson, which is serving as the project engineer. After the initial bids came in, Deborah Greene of the New River Advocates, which formed in opposition to this project, penned an email to town staff, USDA staff, state representatives and local media in late July.
Greene stated that based off the budget WK Dickson submitted to the USDA back in December and the bids that initially came in, the total estimated project cost breaks down to $43.7 million – or about 75 percent over what the voters approved in 2008.
Ward, though, stated that the Boone Town Council has been authorized by the Boone Town Council to negotiate with the lowest bidder in “an effort to secure a reduced cost.”
“This is being done per NC GS 143-129. We plan to negotiate with the apparent low bidder [Garney Companies] of Division 4, and we are in the process of rebidding Division 1-3. If that final bid comes in high, I anticipate requesting authority to negotiate on this portion as well,” Ward said in late July.
Ward said that negotiation doesn’t obligate the mayor and council, but it does provide for an opportunity for cost reduction, and the council will have the final say in the end.
As for the disparity between projected budget and initial bids, Ward responded in an email, “Number of bidders, change in economy, the conditions placed on the work associate with DOT controlled roads, timing involving the potential for the contracts to be approved and the notice to proceed lining up with the start of winter and some under calculations for material costs on behalf of the engineer.”
As he said on Thursday evening, Monday’s meeting should provide a “full picture of the cost of the entire project.”