Water plant cost soars, 35-40% rate hike looms

Cost of project required by DNR jumps to $18.3M, to add as much as $29 to average bill
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

The cost to refurbish Port Washington’s aging water treatment plant has increased to $18.3 million, and the city’s water rates need to increase between 35% and 40% — $22 to $29 per bimonthly bill — during the next two years, officials said Tuesday.

The cost has increased significantly since the project was first announced in 2021 with an estimated $15.3 million pricetag, the result of not just inflation but increased construction costs, Tom Nennig, president of City Water, said.

“We feel this is a pretty realistic estimate at this time,” Nennig, who is part of the water plant design team with Short Elliot Hendrickson Inc., said. “It’s difficult to put a number on it with construction costs being so volatile.”

Nennig said the cost takes into account the bids received for similar sized water projects and includes a factor for the increasing cost of inflation between now and when bids are to be opened in spring.

In comparison, Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven said, the cost of installing water mains has increased 33% during the past year.

The public will get its first look at plans for the project during an information meeting from 5 to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 9, at City Hall.

A formal presentation on the project will be held at 5 p.m. with an open house to follow. Representatives of the city and SEH will be on hand to answer questions.

The meeting is intended to gain input from residents about the plan and the facility — everything from the design of the facility to the cost — officials said.

City officials were shocked last year when the Department of Natural Resources decided to require the plant be upgraded to meet current codes and address deficiencies, primarily regarding backup power and needed changes to the clearwell, that had been grandfathered by the state in the past.

The work, which is expected to extend the life of the plant by 25 to 30 years, will include building a new 500,000-gallon above-ground water reservoir on the south side of the plant, installing an ultraviolet light disinfection system and an emergency generator.

The project includes building an addition to the current plant that will take up much of the grassy area just south of the existing facility.

“We would love to avoid that,” Vanden Noven said, referring to the grassy area. “We can’t.”

That’s due to the fact the clearwell is being moved above ground, he said.

The project is complex, officials said, because the plant needs to continue running while construction is underway.

Nennig said the design plan is expected to be completed by the end of this year and submitted to the DNR for approval.

The project would then be bid during the second quarter of 2023, with construction slated to start in fall and be completed by the second quarter of 2025.

The city is expected to pay for the project through a loan from the Safe Drinking Water Loan Program operated by the DNR, Vanden Noven said, adding the interest rate is about half that of municipal bonding.

Last year, Port hiked its water rate by 3%, but that increase was earmarked to pay for the increasing cost of operations, Nennig said.

The city still has one of the higher water rates in the area, Vanden Noven said, but that’s caused by two major factors — the fact it’s a surface water plant, which is more expensive to operate than a groundwater facility, and the fact water sales have been flat for decades.

The customer base has increased over that time, Nennig said, but the volume of water has remained about the same, in part because people are conserving water and plumbing has become more efficient.

Written comments about the project will also be accepted through Aug. 23. For information, visit the city’s website at portwashingtonwi.gov and go to the water utility page.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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