MSD requests extension for startup of new Oakville plant

Bottom line, Hoelscher says, it’s still a $230 million project

By MIKE ANTHONY

Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District officials have requested a 90-day extension from the state to begin operation of the Lower Meramec Wastewater Treatment Plant in Oakville.

MSD officials had hoped to have the treatment plant operational by Dec. 31, but cited a three-month delay in the construction of a tunnel as the primary reason for requesting the extension from the state.

The Lower Meramec Wastewater Treatment Plant will clean wastewater before discharging it into the Mississippi River. It will replace the Meramec and Baumgartner lagoons and eventually the Grand Glaize and Fenton treatment plants. The district is under an administrative order from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to eliminate the Baumgartner Lagoon by Dec. 31 or pay up to $10,000 per day in penalties.

A nearly four-mile-long tunnel that will carry wastewater from the Baumgartner Lagoon to the new treatment plant is nearing completion roughly 200 feet underground.

Construction of the Lower Meramec Wastewater Treatment Plant began in the fall of 2003 on a 200-acre site near Rogers Elementary School. The project includes four components — the treatment plant, a lift station, the tunnel and a sanitary trunk sewer that will take the existing Baumgartner pump station off-line and send wastewater into the tunnel.

Those four components total roughly $175 million of the $230 million Lower Meramec Wastewater Treatment Plant program, according to MSD Director of Engineering Brian Hoelscher.

Both the treatment plant and the sanitary trunk sewer are complete, Hoelscher told the Call.

“That plant has been ready to turn on and receive flows since this past summer. It’s ready to go,” he said. “That sewer is complete. It’s been done. It’s ready to go. We could turn it on any time. The contractor who’s doing this is also responsible for turning on all of the flows into the tunnel at the various points. So as soon as the tunnel’s ready, he’ll provide 30 days of bypass pumping at all these locations … He’s sitting and waiting to do that. Those two pieces of the project are ready to go.”

But neither the tunnel nor the lift station, which will lift the flows from the tunnel to the treatment plant, are finished.

“The tunnel contractor is finishing up some things. He’s got somewhere between two to three weeks’ worth of work left to go …,” Hoelscher said. “Right now, it looks like he might get done in December. It looks like we think he probably won’t be done until January. But that’s one of two issues as to why we’re going to exceed the Dec. 31st date. He’s got some work inside the tunnel that’s got to be done yet before we can actually let flows go through the tunnel.”

Regarding the lift station, he said, “They are right now trying to get that facility operational. They’ve been trying real hard to make the schedule … It looks like they won’t. It looks like they’re going to miss it by a couple of weeks.”

Work on the lift station should be complete by late January, he added.

Water infiltration into the tunnel has caused the three-month delay in the construction of the tunnel, according to MSD Executive Director Jeff Theerman.

“… This is a big project for us. We’ve really been battling to get it done,” Theerman told the Call. “We visited with DNR and the Attorney General’s Office last Thursday (Nov. 30) because in spite of the fact that some of our contractors are saying they’re going to get done, we came to the conclusion that we are probably not going to get that plant started up by the end of the year. I’d say that that’s very likely that we will not make that happen.”

He said, “… In spite of our best efforts, we’re going to miss it by a few weeks. Our conversation with DNR was a pretty good one. We think at this point they’re receptive to the idea of extending the deadline and not fining the district.”

However, Theerman cautioned that he did not want to speak for the DNR.

MSD officials have asked the DNR for a three-month extension to continue operating the Baumgartner Lagoon and a three-month extension in taking the Baumgartner Lagoon off-line. Furthermore, as a result of problems the city of Arnold has encountered in connecting a new sewer to the tunnel, MSD is requesting a one-year ex-tension to continue operation of the Meramec lagoon.

“The way we see this thing playing out, the Meramec facility, tunnel, pump station, will all become operational probably in late January is the way it looks right now, and we will bring all the flow to that facility from Baumgartner and MSD flows that are presently going to the Meramec Lagoon, the Arnold portion of the flow at Meramec, at the Meramec Lagoon, will continue to go there until they’re able to make their connection to our tunnel. And then we’ll have everything flowing through the new Meramec facility and being treated that way. Then both lagoons, of course, get abandoned,” Theerman said.

The tunnel contractor, Baumgartner Joint Venture, is comprised of Frontier-Kemper of Evansville, Ind., and Gunther-Nash of Creve Coeur, a subsidiary of Alberici Constructors Inc. KCI Construction is the contractor for the lift station.

In January, the MSD Board of Trustees approved additional appropriations for the project, primarily because of the water infiltration problem with the tunnel.

“That water coming into the tunnel … caused a three-month delay in the tunnel contract,” Hoelscher said. “It cost us $6.7 million by the time it was over to resolve the issue. Now outside of that delay, the tunnel contractor itself has also had some issues with production, and so he’s sitting there and he’s still kind of at the tail end of the job, waiting to finish up. The three month-delay right here with the tunnel contractor, plus another six months of delay that the tunnel contractor had on his own, pushed back the start and therefore the completion date of the lift station from February ’06 to November ’06.

“So that nine-month delay was putting us pretty close to turning everything on just about the time the administrative order dated Dec. 31st was coming up. It looked like we still were going to be able to make it. The biggest issue with the lift-station contractor during construction of that lift station, if you recall the pumps and the piping and everything else that’s coming out of it, the mechanical subcontractor was going out of business and went out of business during construction of this facility,” he said. “It was a huge issue for the lift-station contractor. KCI has done everything they can to try and pick up the schedule, still make the Dec. 31st date. It is an issue that they have to deal with. It isn’t an issue for the district. But that delay, primarily that delay, is what’s pushing him beyond his November (date) and therefore getting us into January before we start everything up.”

Hoelscher noted that the additional appropriation approved in January also included $1.38 million in liquidated damages against the tunnel contractor.

“The completion of the rest of these contracts also have liquidated-damage type clauses,” Hoelscher said. “The current contract completion date for the lift station again is November ’06. Now he’s been fighting those issues, but there are liquidated-damage clauses within the contract if they need to be performed. The same way with the tunnel contractor — his current completion is February ’06. So he’s about 10 months behind and those delays also, there are ways to recover those expenses. It’s those kind of clauses in the contract which allow us to say that though we’re missing the date, this isn’t costing the district, it’s not costing the ratepayers any additional monies. These are things that are the responsibility of the individual contractors. There are clauses in the contracts to allow us to recover those costs. Bottom line, there will be no additional expense to the program.”

MSD Public Affairs Specialist Lance LeComb said, “And that’s even if the state were to say no, we’re not going to grant it.”

The liquidated-damage clauses would pay for any fines the state would impose, he explained.

The MSD Board of Trustees today — Dec. 14 — is scheduled to consider an ordinance transferring $500,000 from the treatment-plant budget to the lift-station budget. Hoelscher explained the treatment plant was completed roughly $1.7 million under budget and the $500,000 will come from that balance.

“The reason for us having to transfer those monies, back in January when we asked for additional funds for the lift station, we were making an educated guess as to what the impact to the lift-station contractor would be, for him having to delay his start nine months because of the delays on the tunnel,” he said. “We estimated $1.25 million, and that’s what we included in the appropriation. It was after that time when the lift-station contractor really tried to start pulling all of those impacts together. They submitted a $2.7 million claim to us. We sat down, went item by item down their claim. We finally agreed on a value just under $2 million as being legitimate, additional costs for them being delayed for nine months …,” he said.

“So there’s a $750,000 difference between what we actually negotiated and what we had budgeted in that last supplemental appropriation. While some of that’s covered by the contingency we put in, it doesn’t cover all of it, and so this extra $500,000 is to cover what we think is going to be the additional funds we need in order to make that up in order to complete the project. In the end, though, it’s still a $230 million project …”