City runs into complications ‑ and cost overrun – on Grape

Sean C. Morgan

The city went over its budget by about $6,300 for a waterline replacement project for Grape Loop when it encountered difficulties in turning off water to the area.

The Sweet Home City Council on Feb. 13 approved a bid from ML Houck Construction Co. of Salem for a maximum of $187,000, including contingency funds. The additional expense brings the total cost of the project to $193,000. The engineer’s estimate for the project was $221,000.

The project involved the replacement of 2-inch waterline with 8-inch lines east of 18th Avenue along Grape Street.

Engineering Technician Trish Rice outlined the story to the City Council.

Construction began in May, she said. Typically, water mains are constructed outward from a connection to an existing main. In this case, the fittings for the connections in 18th Avenue had not arrived from the supplier, so the contractor scheduled the connections for the end of the project.

Construction commenced from the east side of 18th Avenue without connecting to the existing main up Grape Street around Grape Loop and back to 18th Avenue.

The contractor encountered complications almost immediately, she said. The 2-inch line had a “wobbly” alignment that conflicted with the new 8-inch line. The city approved moving the new line 1.5 feet further from the curb with the costs for additional excavation and paving covered by the project contingency.

When the pipe installation was complete, the connection work began in June on 18th Avenue. It included the connection of the new main, connections between existing mains and new valves for isolation control among 4-inch, 8-inch and 10-inch lines.

“This is when things started to get weird,” she said. That’s when the contractor and city began discovering new things about the lines and the streets.

They found an existing valve, but the city had no record of it, Rice said. Previous attempts to find that valve had been unsuccessful.

They also found a second street layer and second storm drain system below the surface of 18th Avenue. At some point, the city rebuilt the street on top of the old one.

The city investigated the second storm system and determined it was abandoned. It had no impact on the cost of the project.

The contractor shut down and assembled the new Grape Street main to the 10-inch main in 18th Avenue without incident.

Next was the connection to a 4-inch main, part of the water main loop. The city closed valves in the 4-inch main at Long Street and Main Street. It should have turned off water to the 4-inch main, but it didn’t. Instead, it created a geyser of water. The city clamped the line to stop the geyser.

City staff looked at an 8-inch line crossing the high school fields from 15th Avenue, possibly connected to an 8-inch line in 18th Avenue with an unknown connection to the 4-inch line that prevented shutdown. That 8-inch line had been identified for future valve installation.

With contingency funds already spent, the city reconsidered whether the 4-inch connection and valves were worth the extra difficulty, Rice said. Lack of control valves is the entire reason the city ran into a problem like this, where it was unable to turn off the water.

Skipping the valve installation would ensure the problem continued, so city officials decided to go ahead and install the 4-inch valves as planned.

City crews used a special type of valve, an EZ Valve, which may be installed without a shutdown, on the 4-inch line south of the suspected tie-in to the high school 8-inch line to block flow to the project area.

The contractor completed required tests on the new Grape Street main. The line passed the tests and went into service. The contractor paved Grape Street, and the 4-inch valve went into the change order process.

With nothing else to work on while the city worked through the process, the contractor went to work on another job in mid-July.

When the change order was complete, the contractor was deeply involved in another project and could not return until early December, successfully installing the EZ Valve. The contractor attempted the 4-inch connection again, but it still had water.

City crews scrambled again to find the culprit. After shutting every valve in the area, related or not, the city finally found a previously unknown tie-in between the 4-inch and the 10-inch lines close to the Jim Riggs Community Center, 880 18th Ave., and was able to shut it down.

The contractor finished the 4-inch connection and abandoned the old 2-inch main in December.

City Manager Ray Towry said the staff, Rice, Senior Engineering Technician Joe Graybill and Public Works Director Greg Springman were all frustrated throughout the project.

“Completely out of our control,” Towry said. “We did the best we could with what we had.”

“Stuff happens,” said Councilor Dave Trask in response.

Mayor Greg Mahler noted that staff didn’t bring it to the council for approval prior to incurring the cost overrun.

“That was the prudent thing to do to save money,” Towry said.

The contractors were on site, Springman said. “We want them to be able to work out these differences when they’re on site” instead of after they demobilize from the area.

Staff gave the council options when it presented the project, Mahler said, but now “we really don’t have an option.”

The council approved the expenditure 7-0. Present were Bob Briana, Susan Coleman, Lisa Gourley, Mahler, Trask, James Goble and Diane Gerson.