By Zach Spicer | The Tribune
BROWNSTOWN — Jackson County Water Utility Inc. water mains serving residences and businesses in an area of Brownstown were installed in the early 1900s.
Breaks and failures have become frequent.
While many have been replaced, the water utility believes some customers’ service lines may fall under a scenario planned for replacement, general manager Larry McIntosh said during a recent Brownstown Town Council meeting.
In addition, service lines contain galvanized piping or possible lead gooseneck pipe connections.
Galvanized steel pipes were often used through the 1980s and may be coated with zinc that contains lead, McIntosh said. If present, elevated levels of lead can cause serious health problems, especially for pregnant women and young children.
State and federal agencies are providing funding to assist with the service line replacement, McIntosh said. To use funding sources for the project, the water utility needs a waiver/right of entry for the contractor to enter the yard to replace the service main to residences and businesses in the affected area.
So far, out of 223 rights of entry needed, McIntosh said 92 have not responded.
“Actually, it’s a better response than I thought,” he said. “Right now, we’ve got 92 doors to knock on.”
McIntosh said the estimated start date is this fall. A prebid meeting with potential contractors is May 3, and bid opening is May 17. He already has four contractors that have expressed interest in the project.
“We’re happy to have four because we were concerned we might not get anybody because everybody is so busy,” he said. “Those four contractors, they are all reputable contractors, and I’ve told all of them about (the town’s) project, too, so maybe they will be interested in it. If they have the water project and the sewer project going at the same time, they might be real interested in that. Also, it might get you guys a better price on your project.”
The water project is being funded through the State Revolving Fund, and McIntosh said he anticipates closing that loan June 15.
“Because of supply chain issues, we’re going to give the contractor 550 days,” he said. “We think they could actually do this in less than a year’s time, but it may take them six months just to get hydrants and valves and fittings, so we’re going to give them 550 days. Depending on certain supply chain issues, that could be extended. SRF generally wants this money used up within 24 months.”
A large portion of Spring and Walnut Streets will be impacted by this project. It starts in the area near the water company from Front Street all the way out to Walnut Street beyond the Jackson County Courthouse. Parts of Branch, Stillwell, Sycamore, Asher, High and Cross streets will receive new water mains, too.
The old 8-inch cast iron line was put together with lead and oakum, McIntosh said.
“We don’t have a lot of issues with that,” he said. “Sometimes, those joints crack, they are kind of a pain to fix, but the most important thing that’s really driving this is because of the age of that pipe. When a lot of those original services were put in, they used a small piece of lead called lead gooseneck that comes out of the main to transition over to the galvanized water main, the service line that runs to the house.”
Back then, some lead was used in that molted material that galvanized the pipe, he said.
“After this project, we can certify our system as being lead-free,” he said. “So it’s kind of doing two things: We’re replacing 120-year-old pipe and also removing a lot of known lead that we have in the system.”
Since he started with the water utility in 2014, McIntosh said he has a policy: “If you see lead, it comes out of the ground.”
Service lines under the railroad tracks were replaced in 1992, but McIntosh said those will be an alternate bid on this project to replace because they are already 40 years old.
Three new fire hydrants will be added in one area of the project. And in the area of Spring and Walnut streets, a portion of a sidewalk will be torn out to put in the water line because other utility lines run under the roadway and the street recently was paved.
McIntosh said that sidewalk and all of the roads that are part of the project will be put back.
“Whatever side of the street we’re on now, we’re going on the opposite side because there’s sanitary sewer that runs down the middle of Spring Street,” he said, noting by regulation, water lines have to be 10 feet away. “We hate to be tearing up the streets, but there’s no other way.”
Not because of this project but because it’s an SRF filing and Jackson County Water Utility is a regulated utility, McIntosh said he will be filing a cause before the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission and may have to adjust water rates.
“We have another bond that is retiring at the end of this year, so the timing of this (project) helps offset that,” he said. “But the last year, our one main chemical has gone from $3,600 a semi load to $8,600 a load. Our other electric bills have all gone up, as well. Pipe tripled in price. Six-inch pipe that was around $3 a foot is now more than $9 a foot.”
Councilwoman Sharon Koch asked when he will know the new rates, and McIntosh said fall or winter.
“This is Phase 2,” he said. “We won’t even file that cause with the commission until June, maybe even July. The IURC sets our rates. We don’t have the authority to say we need a raise. We have to justify why we need a rate increase.”
He said it has been four years since the last water rate increase.
“We were doing pretty good until this year,” McIntosh said. “We probably weren’t going to see one for at least two to three years until this year came along.”