The city of Lewiston unveiled a hefty $42 million price tag Monday for fixing all of its aging water system, from the intake on the Clearwater River to the nearby treatment plant to the distribution network around the city.
The news came as the city’s consulting firm, Mountain Waterworks, is putting the finishing touches on a water master plan that will guide the city council’s policies as it tackles the pricey issue.
“This is not a finished document,” City Engineer Shawn Stubbers told the city council during its Monday work session. “It’s basically outlining what capital needs that we have, and getting input from the public and council on where to go forward. Once that occurs, in future steps we’ll start outlining financial plans and rate setting, those types of things.”
Councilors won’t necessarily have to bite off the entire project at once, however. The consultants recommended tackling some of the highest priorities first, like the $25 million rebuilding of the treatment plant.
Another potential bright spot is the availability of state loans through the Department of Environmental Quality that could help finance the project, Stubbers said. The loans offer far lower interest rates than the municipal bond market, saving the city tens of millions over the life of the loans. They also offer more flexibility in accessing the funds and possible forgiveness of as much as 15 percent of the amount.
Stubbers also laid out a three-part strategy that can bring more redundancy and safety to a system that has components well more than 100 years old. The first part is picking what he called the “low-hanging fruit” of making the city’s booster stations and wells more reliable so the water supply won’t be disrupted if the treatment plant has to shut down for repairs.
Second would be an entirely new well and reservoir to serve the area that stretches from the bluff above downtown to about the Lewiston Center Mall. That part of the city’s water system is higher than the rest, making distribution more complicated.
The third part is the complete rebuilding of the treatment plant. Public Works officials have previously said relocating the plant from its location just north of East Main Street was an option, but Stubbers said staff is now pretty much set on using the existing site.
Ryan Rehder, Mountain Waterworks regional manager, said 76 percent of the plant is in unsatisfactory condition with four or fewer years of useful life remaining. Rehder did give big kudos to plant staff for managing to keep it going for so long.
The plan doesn’t include the Lewiston Orchards Irrigation District, which is independent of the city.
Councilors enacted 40 percent rate increases to water and wastewater earlier this year to start saving for the work on both systems and make payments on the bonds to pay for them.
The council elected to ask a 2nd District Judge to approve $28.5 million in bonding for the rebuilding of the wastewater treatment plant in North Lewiston, rather than take the question to the voters. But the judge in that case declined to make a ruling when he found that the city didn’t give legal public notice of the hearing. A new hearing has been scheduled for Dec. 19.
Bonds through the state loan program also would require approval from either a judge or voters, and city councilors will decide which route to take next year.
A public comment period on the plan likely will be scheduled for January, and the council could consider its priorities in February. Then the city can submit the final plan to the state around April.
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