$1.3 million added to wastewater plant expansion

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

One month after the Liberty Hill City Council decided to switch vendors for the equipment and technology being used in the new wastewater plant expansion, taking on an estimated additional $500,000 in cost, the Council voted Tuesday to cover another increase.

The change this time was with construction company building the expansion, in the amount of $1.35 million. The original construction contract was $9.86 million, awarded in June 2019. With the new change order, the construction contract now stands at $11.35 million.

“It’s really the difference in the cost of equipment and some process changes we’re asking the new vendor to add into the plant that will increase the efficiency of it,” Liberty Hill Mayor Rick Hall told The Independent following the meeting. “It will automate a lot of the processes to make it easier on the guys when they’re working there. There’s less manual intervention we have to do which will help keep our labor costs down and a lot of the cleanings and stuff like that will be fully automated to ensure accuracy and proper chemical usage.”

The change approved in April was for the City to use equipment from Suez Environment, rather than from Microdyn MBR, which supplied the equipment for the most recent expansion. The wastewater plant opened in 2018 uses Microdyn equipment and technology, and the extension was also going to use the same equipment and technology.

Hall said in April that past issues with the Microdyn equipment led to the decision.

“We just had a lot of concerns with that plant and its day-to-day operations,” Hall said of the plant, which opened in 2018. “It’s cost the city a lot more money in operating expense over what was anticipated, I would say something in the neighborhood of three quarters of a million dollars more annually than what was budgeted.”

The equipment, which was set to cost the City $2.2 million through Microdyn, will cost $2.6 million from Suez, the new supplier. The equipment cost is separate from the bid award approved for Cunningham Constructors & Associates, Inc. of Georgetown to build the plant.

“It will be a little bit more expensive in cost, but the cost of operating – from man hours, chemical costs, water – our analysis of that shows it will offset the increased cost,” Hall said of the cost increases in April. “Just in the last year alone we have done what they call a deep clean on the membranes, I think 11 or 12 times, and that’s a very expensive cost. The technology we’re moving to we do that twice a year. Minor stuff like that will more than offset the increased cost of the plant.”

Hall reiterated this week he did not believe there would be significant changes to the project going forward.

“There may be a couple of minor changes as we get into it, but I don’t really see a lot,” Hall said. “One of the reasons we’ve made such drastic changes in this is just since the Microdyn plant has been operational we spent almost $800,000 over what was budgeted or explained to us we would need to spend the first year. We’re on track to be close to that amount this time. Adding these automated processes would help us reduce that cost.”

The City endured a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) investigation, but previously announced that it had been settled, the City had been cleared of wrongdoing, and the new plant was functioning as prescribed and up to permit level.

In a number of Council and community meetings called to hear complaints from property owners downstream from the plant about the quality of the effluent, public works staff and other city staff, as well as engineers that worked on the project defended the plant and its operations, never raising questions previously about the reliability of the Microdyn equipment.

In March 2019, Liberty Hill spent $270,000 to replace the 18 Microdyn membrane bioreactor modules at the wastewater treatment plant after they were damaged due to a failed screen intended to keep larger items out of the plant.

Due to the nature of the damage to the modules, they were not covered under warranty.

The screen failure allowed items through the system that clogged and damaged the membranes. In repairing the screen, gravel, some wire and even a piece of PVC pipe was found in the screen.

New entrance?
In March, Council member Steve McIntosh – a resident of Liberty Parke – asked the Council to consider a realignment of the entrance to the subdivision on SH 29 due to safety concerns.

The Council voted unanimously Tuesday to support an initial study and cost estimate for the project, to be conducted by Steger Bizzell Engineering.

The concept is to realign the entrance to the subdivision on Liberty Way to east of Classic Bank to line up and create a four-way intersection at Stonewall Parkway.

“The biggest issue with this is the safety of the residents in this subdivision, not having a light to exit and enter their subdivision on,” Hall said. “We’ve had several close call accidents that could have been a lot worse and we have a lot of concerned residents in the subdivision over safety. If we need to reallocate some funds from different projects to put toward the safety of our community that’s what we need to do.”

Hall said he had no idea what the potential cost of the project might be.

“I want to get the engineer’s estimate to understand where we are going to be with that,” Hall said. “There is some potential CIP (Capital improvement Project) money that hasn’t been spent yet that we could reallocate to that, but I don’t know what that amount is. I’d like to get at least an estimate to try to understand how much money we have to come up with to be able to do this.”

The property is not owned by the City, and Hall said part of it is owned by Classic Bank, a small part by Liberty Parke and another small portion by Oldcastle Materials.

“I’ve already been asking the bank and they are willing to participate and potentially even donate the land to the City,” he said. “(The City) would have to acquire it unless they were willing to donate the land.”

It is early in the process and there is no plan in place for how the costs might be covered if the project moves forward.

“I’ve talked to the developers just briefly and they’ve said let them know how much it is going to be, but there’s been no commitment from the developers and no commitment from the HOA, so we’re doing our due diligence to go out and see how much it’s going to cost to see if we can create a partnership with the developer, the HOA and the City.”

Hall also added Williamson County could be approached as a potential partner because part of the new road could be a portion of the ultimate SH 29 Bypass.

“In order for us to get a good feel about who and how much we can partner with people I just want to get this estimate,” he said.

Independence Day plans
The Council decided to continue on with planning the full Independence Day festival, set for July 3.

The question was raised because with only about five weeks until the festival date the commitment of funds was increasing.

Results from an online survey asking the community what should happen with the festival showed that 50 percent supported going forward with the event as planned. Twenty percent favored a scaled down event, 20 percent supported fireworks only, and only 10 percent said the event should be canceled.

All members of the Council supported going ahead with planning, with Tony DeYoung supporting a slightly scaled down version. Council members Kathy Canady and Liz Rundzieher supported moving forward with the caveat that the City could continue to monitor the situation and pull back or cancel the event if necessary due to changes in the situation with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is very important,” Hall said. “It’s a great morale booster for the entire community and it has been a highlight of our City for several years. I really feel like the people in the City and the surrounding area are getting restless and I think this is a great opportunity for us to be able to have something that would allow them at their leisure – we don’t force anybody to come – to come out and relax and have some fun time and celebrate our independence.”

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