Water supply systems aren’t exactly fodder for viral news stories. People don’t get worked up and pound the table as they read infrastructure articles over breakfast. At least, they don’t while the water supply is working.
Water systems, of course, deliver a product that everyone would rapidly die if they didn’t get, so they may be among the more underappreciated components of modern life. And it makes sense that water towers, pipes and the like consume a lot of time, energy and money for local towns and cities.
The city of Harrington is feeling some of those costs, and has been trying to come up with the money for major work for some time. It is now pulling together details on plans for an extra water tower and extensive water main replacement that would cost around $10 million, and that’s really just a first step in needed updates to an aging system. The good news for residents is that the city may get help from government loans in footing much of that bill.
Many communities, of course, get by without two water towers, but Town Manager Daniel Tartt said “the Harrington population continues to grow. We continue to have developments pop up,” and they are at or near capacity with the old tower.
The new tower is slated for a property near Friendship Village and the elementary school, Tartt said. The goal is to build a new library on that property in the future as well.
This is a project that has been in the works for years, but previously sat dormant because it was more than the city could afford, according to Daniel String, senior project manager with KCI Technologies, which does engineering for Harrington. But he reported at the Harrington City Council meeting on Monday, Aug. 16, that the city would qualify for more than $7 million in loan forgiveness.
Residents approved a referendum on a loan for a little over $2 million in 2016, town accountant Amanda Marlow said. Now the city is in negotiations with the state Office of Drinking Water on an additional $7.6 million loan that would be forgiven after the work on the project is finished. The city would pay interest during construction.
The city is still working out the details and is in conversation with the state of Delaware on the loan forgiveness, which does not have final approval. But at long last the money may be falling into place for these projects.
“It’s really exciting news, I think, that you’re getting that much principal forgiveness for these really important projects,” String said.
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One concern, String said, is with construction costs that have been “off the charts,” which means that even if it is able to line up all this money the city may not have enough to cover the work. Like many other industries, construction has been plagued by supply issues and volatile prices during the COVID-19 pandemic.
That’s why the city on Monday night approved spending up to $1.9 million in money from the American Rescue Plan, the federal government’s nearly $2 trillion coronavirus aid bill passed earlier this year. Part of the money in the bill was for local governments to keep vital services going, and Marlow told the council it could be used for this project. They’ll use the money if the costs on the water project go over what is expected.
The plans include not only the new water tower, but a new well, a new water treatment building, and water main improvements along a good section of Route 13, String said.
The most urgent need is for the water mains, because the state Department of Transportation wants to start a paving project on Route 13 in the fall, and the city needs to get that work done ahead of time, String said. If the city has a firm plan for moving ahead with this project, DelDOT may be able to work with them on the timing.
Under the city’s streets are other pipes and systems that need to be addressed. A lot of time at Monday’s meeting was spent discussing issues with sewage backups and brown water in taps (not related issues, thankfully).
The brown water is an issue engineers are still trying to figure out, String said, but he boiled it down to old, rusting metal pipes. The city can replace those with plastic ones, he said, which is very expensive, or can manage what they have.
“We can’t cure every need with one project, it’s not going to happen. But what I see here right now is the opportunity to get, you know, over $10 million of much-needed infrastructure improvement that’s only costing the taxpayers $2 million in loans,” String said.
Tartt said the pipeline along Route 13 could help with the brown water issue as well.
It might be a few months before residents actually see backhoes digging trenches. The town could be getting bids by October on the pipeline part of the project, String estimated.
The work likely won’t end there. “In my opinion, we need to go through the town and continue to update our infrastructure,” Tartt said, including stormwater drainage, sewer lines and water lines.
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