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Wastewater treatment plant operational, but problems remain


Posted 9/27/16 (Tue)

By Kevin Killough
Tioga’s Wastewater Treatment Plant, which was expected to be fully operational by summer, will not be entirely complete until next year.
However, the plant is partially operating and will be capable of meeting Department of Health recommendations for effluent discharges through the winter. 
And it’s expected to be fully operational before the end of October, even if a few issues will require further monitoring. 
How complete?
The substantial completion level is currently between 2 percent and 10 percent, said Water Commissioner John Grubb.
Grubb said the commission is putting less and less stock in the term “substantial completion.” As it’s been used in the past with many city projects, it often doesn’t mean the job is done. 
Other projects deemed to have reached the mark of substantial completion continue to have problems. And the determination of what’s substantially complete has a lot of subjective measurements. 
On the wastewater treatment plant, the engineer, AE2S, and construction manager at risk, Rice Lake, disagree on the level of completion on the project, which leads to the range of 2 percent to 10 percent. 
And the fact remains, the project is not complete.
“We’re still dealing with a few challenges,” said Water Commissioner John Grubb. 
This includes some electrical issues that have recently arisen, and a few other systems that are not operating properly, including one clarifier. 
It also includes problems with soil settling, which caused extensive delays since this past spring.
Mayor Drake McClelland met last week with representatives of Rice Lake and AE2S to come up with a plan to wrap up the project by the first frost. 
“It’s not as bad as it used to be, but I’m not 100 percent sold on it,” McClelland said, referring to the soil issues. 
The problems with soils arose after the thaw last spring. A large amount of dirt work was done during winter, and the compaction level was solid at the time. 
But when the frost in the soil melted, the settlement became extreme -- so much so that an electrical building tipped seven inches, breaking conduit beneath it. 
Grubb said much of that issue is addressed. With the recent rains and impending frost to come, the city won’t be certain of proper compaction until tests can be completed through the winter and next spring. 
“It’s still an ongoing thing,” Grubb said. 
Shoddy work?
The issues at the plant have been part of the discussions at commission meetings throughout September, with commissioners’ patience wearing thin. 
Mayor Drake McClelland raised concerns about a subcontractor who is doing engineering tests on the soil compaction  and is being paid by Rice Lake. 
McClelland called this a “conflict of interest.” 
As the commission discussed the possibility of hiring its own engineer to do soils tests and who would pay for it, Commissioner Tim Sundhagen said anyone who has worked in construction knows you don’t do major dirt work in winter.
He wanted to know who allowed it to happen and why previous tests didn’t indicate a compaction problem.
“Somebody really dropped the ball. Who is over their head? Where are the inspectors?” Sundhagen asked. 
Charles Vein with AE2S said he isn’t sure why previous tests were unable to alert anyone to the soil issues. 
Sundhagen called it “shoddy work.” 
Exactly why the dirt work was done during winter is in dispute. 
Vein previously said they were trying to reach deadlines from the Department of Health to meet certain standards by this past June. 
Speaking after the meeting, Grubb said these were more recommendations than mandates.  
Grubb said he didn’t want to point fingers at AE2S or Rice Lake, but he did want to stress the issues aren’t the city’s fault. 
At the last commission hearing, Darrell Schneider with AE2S said the company had been conducting performance testing on the plant, and they were seeing water treatment results improving daily. 
“It’s a slow process,” he said. 
Grubb said once the plant is operational later in October, the city will have all the treatment capacity it needs for far into the future. 
“We’re prepared for a long time to come,” he said.

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