$37M water plant nearly finished
ELKINS — The city of Elkins’ new water plant is expected to go online and begin producing water in December, and city officials hope residents understand the improvements and services their increased water bill rates will be financing.
“We’re proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish on behalf of the city, and we hope that once people see what their money is buying they’ll agree it is a good investment in the future,” Elkins Operations Manager Bob Pingley said this week.
Pingley took The Inter-Mountain on a tour of the $37-million facility, where the final touches of construction work are currently being finished.
Before heading up to Reservoir Hill to the new plant above High Street, Pingley displayed the powerful new motors installed at the city’s raw water intake building on Baron Avenue.
“These are the motors that push the water up on the hill. It starts right here and goes out across the train tracks and in behind McDonald’s, then up Delaware and up Grant and up High Street, all the way up the hill (to the new plant),” Pingley said.
“These are big motors, 500-horsepower motors. We don’t run them both at the same time, they alternate,” he said. “It helps preserve the life of them, and if one goes down, you have to have a backup.”
The city is also placing a new generator at the raw water intake site, which means water service will continue even during a power outage.
“We’ve never been able to put back-up power in here so if the power goes out we can still push water. That’s going to change now,” Pingley said. “We’re going to have a generator in this building that’s capable of running these motors and pushing water up on the hill. Loss of power will not in any way impact us from producing water.”
Pingley said power outages have depleted the water supply in the past.
“There’s been times when we’ve gotten close,” he said. “During Superstorm Sandy, we were within about five hours of running out of water. With the backup generator power, our storage capacity is not as critical as it used to be.”
Water from the new hill-top plant, which will be capable of producing 4,000 gallons per minute, will be distributed via a gravity-fed system, running downhill.
“With a gravity-fed system, some fairly significant changes had to be made to the distribution network just to make it all work,” Pingley said, including installing new lines and replacing some old ones.
Pingley drove The Inter-Mountain to the new plant through the construction entrance.
“The permanent entrance is going to be off High Street. We’ve had to make this the construction entrance because there’s no truck route to the High Street side,” Pingley said. “Taking all those tractor trailers and concrete trucks and everything else up High Street just wasn’t what we needed to do.
“We had to upgrade this road in order to get up here,” Pingley said of the construction entrance. “We just have an access with this road. This land the road goes through does not belong to the city.”
The construction entrance road to the water plant winds up the hill for a little more than a mile, Pingley said. The access road is gated and locked after hours.
Before reaching the water plant, the construction entrance passes by the new 3-million-gallon, pre-stressed-concrete reservoir tank, which will replace the city’s Crystal Springs and McQuain Road tanks. The city is keeping the 1-million gallon High Street tank, which is located next to the new plant.
Pingley said construction of the new 3-million-gallon tank was an elaborate process.
“It’s all concrete, with steel in it also. It was fascinating to watch them build it,” Pingley said of the new tank. “They poured it in sections, and actually built the roof first on scaffolding, then they poured the wall sections all the way around and put them together. Once they got the walls up they wrapped it with steel cable, about an inch-and-an-eighth thick, and then they wrap it and pre-stress it. That way when you pour the water inside it there isn’t any movement, it’s already tight.
“The advantage of a tank like this is that, with proper care and maintenance, you can expect a 60- to 100-year lifespan.”
Pingley noted the concrete dome-shaped structure “almost looks like the WVU Coliseum” in Morgantown.
This type of reservoir “is more expensive up front, but less problems down the road,” he said. “They’re becoming more and more common.”
Construction of the new water plant involved one general contractor, Triton Construction, for contract No. 4, which includes the new plant, water tank and raw water intake. The entire project also involved “probably 20 to 25 subcontractors,” Pingley said.
Outside the new plant, visitors’ eyes are drawn to the sedimentation basin, a large rectangular stainless steel structure containing a huge water tank. The structure is connected to the plant by a walkway.
“This tank was built in sections, here on the job site, and then it was put together,” Pingley said. “It’s all stainless steel, everything in contact with the water is stainless steel.”
Inside the new plant, the first floor contains rows and rows of racks containing what Pingley described as “long cylinders called membranes, the heart and soul of this plant,” which the water will pass through during the production process.
David Mitchell, a representative of Chapman Technical Group, the engineering firm for the project, has been stationed at the site of the new plant since construction began.
“This has been a big job, a huge project,” Mitchell said. “Things have gone very well.”
Pingley said there have been no accidents during construction.
The second floor of the new plant includes a laboratory, a break room, a conference room, rest rooms and a server room for all the computerized systems.
Pingley said the new plant will feature the same number of city employees as the old plant.
“Overall there’s five employees, and at any one time two or three,” he said. “For safety reasons we like to have at least two employees here at any one time.”
All the new construction comes with a price. City of Elkins water customers’ bills due Dec. 19 feature significant rate increases.
Under the new rates, the cost for customers’ first 2,000 gallons will rise from $10 to $15.25 per 1,000 gallons, a 52.5 percent increase, and the cost for customers’ next 3,000 gallons will rise from $5.49 to $8.50 per 1,000 gallons, a 54.83 percent increase.
The increase is to help the city make the almost $116,000 monthly payments through 2055 to pay for the new plant.
This rate increase is the second of two approved by Elkins City Council in 2015. The first increase, which went into effect in 2015, covered the increased cost of ongoing operations. This new increase was a loan condition imposed by the project’s funders, city officials said.
Pingley said he hopes customers understand that the construction and improvements had to be done, as the old water plant has been in service since 1921.
“It will be a great thing for the city, and I think our customers will be very happy with the new plant,” he said. “I just hope they understand the rate increases are necessary so these changes can be made.”