The Fort Pierre City Council authorized an update to the city’s 2018 water study by Interstate Engineering of Jamestown, North Dakota, after contentious discussion and a near-split 4-2 vote during its Monday meeting.
Greg Kenzy and Larry Cronin of Fort Pierre’s Ward I voted against the $7,500 update. The overall Interstate request for proposals that the council considered Monday included $845,000 in engineering costs among the update, preliminary engineering including a State Revolving Fund application, preparation of water storage tank construction documents and preparation of water treatment plant construction documents. Ultimately, the council decided to go forward with only the study update for now.
“I wanted more information on the project as a whole,” Cronin told the Capital Journal about his nay vote. “We have 10 years before the present contract runs out. There’s no use rushing within an 11- or 12-day period here to make a big, drastic decision that affects a $10, $12 to $15 million project.”
The city’s rural water agreement with present vendor West River/Lyman-Jones expires in 2032, and WR/LJ acknowledged in an Aug. 26 letter to Fort Pierre Mayor Gloria Hanson that it will likely not be able to renew the agreement with Fort Pierre that year.
Cronin’s mention of an “11- to 12-day period” refers to the October deadline for the South Dakota Drinking Water State Revolving Funds. The DWSRF provides low interest loans for drinking water projects by governmental entities and non-profit corporations.
“(The study update) opens the door to allow us to start planning, and we have to have some facts in place before we can begin the planning process,” Hanson said. “And that study is necessary for any application we might make to DANR.”
Hanson said the city will miss the DWSRF deadline for 2021, but that she understands they can apply once again in January, something Cronin noted Wednesday.
“The study could be updated, my concern was once you earmark one company and you start putting in thousands of dollars into a study — I know it was approved for $7,500, but in the second sentence there it might be another $17,000, so pretty soon, within a two-minute conversation, we were up to $25,000 to one company,” Cronin said. “So I just wanted to get more facts. We haven’t been brought in on that, we’ve been kept in the dark on this deal from the mayor and the staff, and I just wanted more information before we make a drastic decision here.”
Cronin’s $17,000 figure refers to the additional estimate of $17,500 that Interstate named in its RFP to carry out preliminary engineering and work with city staff and state officials to submit a DWSRF loan application.
Hanson said Monday’s rare near-split vote was “a bit” surprising, but that Kenzy and Cronin’s votes were more to make a point about the short notice on which they received notification about the project’s details than about being against the action itself.
“If the line is down for three days, we don’t have that much water in storage,” Hanson said. “This summer, we came within 200 gallons of having to boil our water. That’s pretty serious. It’s not something we can wait for ten years.”
City Utility Superintendent Vern Thorson said the council may have been caught off-guard by the short notice for the DWSRF application deadline, but that the study still needs updating to move forward.
“My concerns would be on the reservoir, and in the future, as we put things down the road and we wait, and then you get into a situation, say, in a year or two, that there’s a lot of drought and need for water, then we’re on a short end with them on water that we can take at 700 gallons a minute,” Thorson said. “So to compromise that, you have to have more storage.”
Though Interstate Engineering is headquartered in North Dakota, it maintains offices in four other states, including one in Spearfish.