Q&A: What's City Hall doing to address its water woes?
By now, City Hall must be pretty good at typing up boil water advisories.
Another one was issued on Monday, this time for people along the eastern half of Blandy Road and the neighborhood above the pickleball courts at Walter B. Williams Jr. Park. Around 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, meanwhile, the advisory was rescinded, according to an online public notice. This week's problem centered around a "water main break on Blandy Road" that resulted in "little to no water pressure" for people along "Blandy Road between ABC Drive and Highway 22, Meriweather Circle, Stevens Drive and pine Lane," according to the release.
This week's water problem was miniature compared to the one from this past spring, when schools and restaurants were forced to close and water distribution centers were set up around town.
For whatever reasons, that particular water outage struck a nerve with many people around town, and never before had City Hall felt so much pressure to address the problem. There was even a Facebook group created by business owners – Fix Our Water Now.
6 years, 13 water outages. It’s been over 20 years since we’ve seen critical infrastructure investment in Milledgeville. Call our mayor and city council members and tell them to take immediate steps to fix our water now.
Between the water outage from last April and another one around last Christmas, City Hall kicked it into gear, making the issue a top priority. In late May, City Council approved an "engineering agreement" with Turnipseed Engineering, thus speeding up the process.
QUESTION: So, what's the process?
ANSWER: The fixes center around the city's Lamar F. Hamm water treatment plant, which opened in 1953, a full 70 years ago. The plan is to retrofit and renovate the Hamm plant, located at the end of East Montgomery Street and past the Doles Boulevard neighborhood. Also in City Hall's plans are retrofitting and upgrading the waste water treatment plant, located across the river and further south.
"The bones of the (Hamm plant) are really good so the plant itself is in good condition but there are a lot of mechanical things that are in there pumps and valves and electronics that are out of date and will need refurbishing those are the things that are going to be replaced and that's the major cost of the plant," an engineer told City Council in May.
QUESTION: What else?
ANSWER: City Hall will dedicate $1 million per year, on top of what it already spends, to replacing its oldest water lines and water mains, especially the old concrete ones around the Columbia Street/Montogmery Street intersection, which have been notoriously bad in recent years.
QUESTION: What's the timetable?
ANSWER: If everyting goes accordingly, upgrades to the two treatment plants should begin at some point next year and take three to four years to complete. On top of that, the extra $1 million per year for water line and water main replacements will be permanent and ongoing.
QUESTION: How much will all of this cost?
ANSWER: The estimate is somewhere between $60 million and $100 million, depending on inflation and depending on how much of the equipment at the water plants must be replaced, which won't be known until the engineering firm completes its study. The "$60 million to $100 million" estimate also includes millions of dollars for water line and water main replacements, which aren't cheap, as you can imagine. City Manager Hank Griffeth recently told a group of Chamber of Commerce invitees that the current cost for water line repairs is "$150 per foot," which equates to $792,000 per mile.
QUESTION: How will City Hall pay for all of this?
ANSWER: The goal is to obtain low interest loans from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority and/or the Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission. City Hall also will apply for different federal and state grants. Regardless, rates will increase for city water customers, and people will pay more per month for water and sewer than they do currently.