Water System Plan Identifies $20M in Repairs, Upgrades
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Public Services Committee on Wednesday reviewed a 20-year capital plan to address the city's aging water system.
The $20 million "wish list" was created by Tighe & Bond with a $10,000 grant through the federal Drinking Water Act. The funds ($7,500 with a $2,500 match by the city) was awarded by the state Department of Environmental Protection in December.
"When I was hired, the mayor made it clear what he wanted to achieve," said Public Services Superintendent Timothy Lescarbeau, who was placed in charge of the DPW last fall. "He wanted to know how bad the infrastructure was in North Adams."
Underneath the freshly paved roads are "time bombs" of crumbling water and sewer pipes, he told the committee, as he and Mayor Richard Alcombright ticked off issues the DPW has been dealing with just since the federal streetscape project has been ending.
On Massachusetts Avenue alone, the city's had to dig up the new road six times since last fall to deal with water main breaks. A 24-inch water main stamped 1882 was uncovered and Lescarbeau searched the National Archives to find a schematic for a gate valve made by a company out of business for a century so R.I. Baker could replicate it. Digging to clean a sewer break on Church Street uncovered old wooden telephone boxes and a 100-year-old gas main that has to be replaced.
Ten percent of the water lines are at least a century old; some 200 hydrants aren't working.
Lescarbeau, who ran the water filtration plant for United Water until the city took it over last fall, said the grant allowed the city take its first step in the capital planning process.
Alcombright said the plan will become part of a 10-year capital plan that will also look at other infrastructure, such as the police and fire stations and the sewers.
"The goal is to put together a high-level planning document," said Thomas D. LeCourt, Tighe project engineer who, with Vice President Dana Haff, explained the findings and recommendations. "It's really a wish list ... There's nothing in this report that obligates you to do anything. We have a schedule with the projects and a timeline but there's nothing saying you have to follow this schedule."
The survey looked at six areas — source, treatment, storage, pumping, distribution, and other — and identified priorities and expected costs.
Among the top priorities is the deteriorating aqueduct linking the Notch and Mount Williams reservoirs. The concrete structure installed in 1917 crosses a ravine. While repairs have been made on it, Alcombright said at least one of the pylons is more rebar than concrete.
The aqueduct and dam improvements are estimated to cost $3.5 million.
Also on the list were pump replacements, security improvements at the reservoir and filtration plant; a new, larger storage tank at Upper East Main; tank resealing; and replacements of meters, valve, pipes and hydrants. The plan recommends setting program goals and determining funding.
"This gives us a snapshot of what the priorities are going to be," Alcomright said of the plan, which committee members David Bond, David Lamarre and Keith Bona voted to recommend to the City Council. "I don't think there was anything shocking in there. We kind of knew what it was, but it puts it all on one place."
LeCourt said the some of the projects could be funded in part by grants or, more likely, through SRF funds. The city's plan will be submitted to the state to help more federal money flow into the state revolving fund.
"The more need they can document that Massachusetts water systems have, the more money they'll be able to get to allocate to communities," said LeCourt. "They're looking for hard numbers that they can use to improve their position to get more money."
But the city would also have to look at bonding or water rates, which would push the burden onto water users.
Alcombright said he was interested in taking the water fees, which currently flow into the general fund, and placing them into an enterprise account. That would limit the use of the funds to water system-related issues only, allowing a reserve to build up toward maintenance and repairs. A number of municipalities use such accounts, including Adams and Williamstown.
"A lot our capital plan will be deferred until we can find money," said the mayor, adding that having the plan in place will be critical to attaining those funds.
Lescarbeau said the repairs — from water breaks to hydrant repairs — will keep going, plan or not.
"I'm going to do what I can to chip away at a lot of this stuff," he said. "I'm not going to wait for a capital plan. If I have the stuff available, I'll take care of it. That's what I was hired for."
The survey will be presented to the City Council at its first meeting in August.