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Plant delays concern Strasburg leaders

By Alex Bridges

Strasburg's $12 million water treatment plant remains offline months after its expected completion.

Town Council's Infrastructure Committee heard an update Monday on the water treatment plant from Chief Operator Chris Ritenour on the project. But several council members expressed concern about the time that has passed since the plant reached substantial completion.

Last fall officials said they expected the plant would be completed in December 2012. But they advised that the facility would need to undergo a number of test runs before the town could bring the plant online and it would begin to produce and distribute water to users.

Councilwoman Sarah Mauck voiced concern about the project delays.

"This thing has been so out of our control from about the fourth or fifth month into that it just really upsets me," Mauck said. "I've been on council during the whole process of this and every time you give us a report it's 'they don't,' or 'they can't,' or 'they will.'" It just seems like we don't have a really good handle on it."

The project also remains behind schedule.

"It's a simple water treatment plant that we expected to be online a year ago and we're still not there and I know it must be frustrating for you," Mauck said.

"It's very frustrating," Ritenour said. "No disrespect but there's nothing simple about a water treatment plant."

Ritenour explained that through the experience he's learned more about what happens behind the scenes of plant operations and about systems not in use at the current facility.

"The more automation you add to it the more complex the problems become," Ritenour said.

The operator explained that staff are working to resolve issues related to water flow in the plant. For instance, some of the equipment is not giving accurate measurements of water flow. Resolving this issue will help the plant as far as accountability in the future and when the town seeks its permit through the Virginia Department of Health, Ritenour said.

In response to a question from Councilman Donald Le Vine, Town Manager Judson Rex said that the contractor continues to pay a penalty of $550 per day. The amount covers the cost to the town to pay an engineer to give Strasburg staff technical advice on the project during construction.

"It's not liquidated damages per se but they're incurring a cost each day [they] keep going [over completion date]," Rex said.

Le Vine asked if the town could impose penalties, adding that the project "could go on and on." But he acknowledged that too high of a penalty may push a firm to hastily complete a project.

"Our patience has run out," Le Vine noted.

Part of the delay comes as a result of issues facing the contractor on the project, Ritenour explained.

"He's run into a couple of issues with some of his subcontractors and he's taken measures to work issues out with them or continue to do the work [themselves]," Ritenour said.

The contractor has brought a second superintendent to the job site to help coordinate with the subcontractors to expedite the work and resolve outstanding issues, Ritenour added.

The department could not give a timeline of when council could expect to see the plant come online. The contractor does provide the department a weekly schedule for the project. Ritenour said he hopes the contractor can provide a "more realistic schedule" of the completion once the company resolves issues with the subcontractor.

"I hope we don't have to go through this wastewater treatment plant," Mauck added.

Mauck referred to ongoing work by the town and a private firm to design a new wastewater treatment plant. Le Vine asked if the process under way by staff to develop the project would help the town avoid the issues raised about the water treatment plant.

Earlier in the meeting Jay McKinley, chief operator of the town's wastewater plant, gave the committee an update on the efforts by staff and the design-build team to work on the scope of the project. Staff and the design-build team plan to meet Oct. 9 with representatives from the Department of Environmental Quality and the funding agencies to discuss the project.

McKinley, in response to Le Vine's concerns, said staff members are discussing the same issues with the design-build team.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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