Modesto Irrigation District sets aside extra $8.3M for treatment plant

07/10/2012 2:08 PM

07/10/2012 9:13 PM

The Modesto Irrigation District board Tuesday added $8.31 million to the budget for its beleaguered water treatment plant expansion.

The 5-0 vote came over the objection of Modesto city officials, who disagree with the MID over how the extra costs should be handled.

The money will cover some of the engineering, construction and legal costs that arose after flaws were reported in work done at the plant.

"Although there are some differences of opinion," MID board President Tom Van Groningen said, "the fact of the matter is that the work needs to be completed."

Construction started in 2007 on the expansion, which will double the volume of Tuolumne River water that the MID treats for Modesto and a few smaller locales.

The expansion was supposed to cost $63 million and be finished in 2009. The MID has estimated at least $27 million in extra costs and now expects completion in 2014.

The district is passing on the costs to the city, citing an agreement signed before the expansion started. City officials dispute this.

"We're looking forward to resolving our issues, but just for the record, we want to object to this budget increase," said Rich Ulm, the director of utilities planning.

The agreement allows the MID board to approve budget changes without city consent.

The city has started the process for a possible water rate increase to cover the costs. Meanwhile, the MID and the city have sued to recover this money from contractor Western Summit Constructors of Denver and plant designer and construction manager Black & Veatch of Overland Park, Kan.

The MID board Tuesday also approved a $1.13 million contract with Manito Construction Inc. of Pleasanton for changes to "roof-to-wall connections" on a building at the plant.

Problems at plant

An MID staff report says steel plates were installed in the wrong places atop masonry block walls, complicating the connections to steel roof pieces.

Inspections also have found problems with the stability of six "membrane basins," which will be part of the treatment process, and with the lower part of an exterior wall.

Board member Larry Byrd, who has been raising questions about MID spending since taking office in December, went along with Tuesday's votes on the plant.

"I'm reluctant to spend another dime out there, but at the same time, we can't leave that (plant) empty," he said.

The meeting drew a fairly large crowd, mainly critics of the MID's proposed water sale to San Francisco.

They said that water will be needed for the expanded treatment plant, farming and increased releases likely to be required for river fisheries.

The board has scheduled a July 24 vote on the first sale of 2,240 acre-feet per year, which amounts to 1.6 percent of its average annual deliveries to farmers and the treatment plant. The price would start at $700 per acre-foot, about 70 times what the MID charges farmers.

San Francisco could buy an additional 25,000 acre-feet that would be freed up by conservation projects on the canal system. The MID board could vote on the 24th to launch a study on the environmental effects of that transfer.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or (209) 578-2385.

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