Posted 9/22/15 (Tue)
By Kevin Killough
As contractors begin work on a new water tower for Tioga, questions of liability have arisen over a water standpipe constructed in 2012 that has served no useful function.
At a meeting Monday, Tioga City Commissioners agreed to collect information about the standpipe so the city attorney can give them legal advice on the matter.
Engineering firm Ackerman-Estvold, now serving the city on numerous other projects, bought out Ameritech Engineering, which designed the standpipe.
A representative of the firm made no comment on the standpipe Monday, either to the commission or to the press.
The standpipe was erected alongside ND 40 near the Tioga Dam, and was originally aimed at serving the needs of housing developments, including Anabelle Homes and Lutheran Social Services apartments, but was found to provide inadequate pressure.
Commissioner John Grubb said the tower would have been more useful if a third phase of the Anabelle Homes project would have come to fruition.
City officials recently began looking into how much was spent on the project so they can determine its worth in case it could be sold. Initial research pulled up a collection of invoices related to the standpipe, which valued the design and construction at just over $2 million. However, City Auditor Abby Salinas said the actual price tag is believed to be much higher.
District 2 Rep. Bob Skarphol, R-Tioga said he believes the actual cost may be closer to $8 million.
Salinas said the city is working with Ackerman to determine the actual costs of the standpipe.
Liabilities and options
The city is hoping the standpipe is not a total loss. Grubb said the reservoir might help satisfy water needs in the rural parts north of Tioga if the town grows out that way, but there remain a lot of unknowns.
But until all of the information is available, “We’re speculating right now,” Grubb said.
Skarphol told the Tioga Tribune he thinks the city should hold Ackerman-Estvold accountable.
“I have concerns when an engineering firm the city paid to do a job doesn’t have the skills to build a water tower we can use,” Skarphol said.
The city contracted Ameri-tech Engineering in 2011 to design and oversee the construction of the standpipe. Ackerman-Estvold later bought the company.
“The city needs to be diligent in going after them,” he said, though it could take a court to decide what liability, if any, Ackerman-Estvold has for work done by Ameri-tech.
Once complete, the new water tower will rise 143 feet above ground and will be the tallest thing in Tioga. The composite tower will have a concrete stem with a steel reservoir on top.
If all goes according to plan, the construction on the tower will continue through January. It will be painted in May. Then, by July, the city hopes to have it operational.
Antonio Conti, project manager for engineering firm AE2S, said the most important thing the town gets from the new tower is fire safety. Since the tower works off of gravity, even with no power the town will have water pressure.
“You need additional storage for fire protection for your hospital and your school,” said Conti.
The new tower will hold 750,000 gallons of water, whereas the old tower near Signal Road holds under 150,000. This will bring the town into compliance with regulations requiring the city to be able to deliver 2,000 gallons of water per minute for two hours.
Besides fire prevention, the tower provides the town with a water supply should there be an extended need to draw from storage. The tower was designed to provide 100 gallons per day, per person for a population estimated to be around 2,800.
So, the town could draw on storage for a little less than three days at that rate.
The project also entails improvements in piping infrastructure, which are as inadequate for the town’s population as the old tower.
Currently, Tioga is fed with a 10-inch line from the R&T tie-in. During the summer, when the town’s 2,800 people were watering lawns, filling pools, taking showers, and washing cars, the city was actually running low on water.
“When you have a lot of demand in town, you cannot push enough water through it,” Conti said.
To solve this problem, Tioga is putting in a 12-inch line. Next year, if all the funding comes through, R&T will bring a 16-inch line, and Tioga’s new 12-inch line will tie into that. Altogether, the two projects should satisfy the population’s demand for years to come.
Aside from the occasional truck blocking the way, no roads will need to be closed during construction, which is good news for a town currently filled with closed-off thoroughfares and detours.