Sunday, April 14, 2024

Wastewater treatment plans delayed

Photographer | February 28, 2024 2:00 AM

“You’ll notice on your agenda that we’re not calling for bids on the wastewater treatment plant project as planned,” city manager Susan Nicosia said to Columbia Falls City Council at their Feb. 20 meeting.

The portion of the ARPA-funded project presented was originally estimated to be $3.5 million. On Feb. 7, the city received an estimate from engineers at $7.5 million. 

“Just today, before noon, we got new numbers. Now it was $8 million,” Nicosia said. A 131% increase that funding would not cover and took nine months for the engineering company to produce. 

A viral reactor for the site went from $945,000 to $1.6 million. A redundant effluent screen jumped from $735,000 to over $2 million. The list went on, with everything from electric work to the garage door increasing ridiculously in price. 

“I am certain that there are errors somewhere,” Nicosia said. Nicosia planned to meet with the engineering company for a review. 

Columbia Falls was in the first group funded by the state for the ARPA project. If the agreement is not fulfilled as scoped, the city must go back to the commission and ask for changes. Nicosia worried that requests for more funding would be denied or the money revoked entirely. 

Without the grant funding, the city cannot fund the project independently. 

Before ARPA funding was an option, the city had planned to fix the plant via a $1.5 million loan and with $1.5 million of their funds. Now the project is funded by $1.21 million in capital expansion funds, $1.4 million in federal ARPA funds, $2 million in a competitive grant passed through the state of Montana, and $877k in a HB 632 grant allocation. Through those funds, the city was able to avoid utilizing the State Revolving Loan fund program which would have required a sewer utility rate increase on all users.

The project must be completed by September of 2025. “It’s really disappointing to be in this position at this time,” Nicosia said. 

In other city news:

— The city voted to put a three-member government review study commission on the June 4 ballot, the first since 2014. As a budget, the city has set aside $55,000 for elections. If passed by voters, study commission members would be elected in November. 

— The council has received seven applications for the open city manager position. They will be reviewed at next meeting.