New wells inadequate for water demands

Friday, May 2, 2003

Though the construction phase of Cape Girardeau's $17.5 million Cape Rock water plant expansion project is nearly finished, the work of supplying the future water needs of the city is far from over.

The 10 new wells drilled on the banks of the Mississippi River don't have the capacity to adequately supply the city in a hard drought without continuing to supplement the system with water directly pulled from the river, say public works officials. This means the city council will be asked Monday night to approve a new engineering study and the drilling of two test wells in another location.

Considering the entire project is already 16 months behind schedule, the need for additional drilling may concern some.

The city has depended on the Mississippi River as its main water source, but it has been seeking alternatives. The original engineering study to locate an additional water source was completed by Burns & McDonnell Engineering Co. of Kansas City, Mo., in the late 1990s, said city engineer Mark Lester.

"Any time you do a study like that, they'll base their conclusions on data they receive from testing," Lester said. "I can only speculate that they looked at their data and talked to their geologist and believed that there was enough water."

Summer hint

The deficiency of the well field was first noticed during last summer's dry weather and a lower-than-average river level.

The drilling of additional wells was always considered a possibility, but no one anticipated a whole new well field would be necessary, Lester said.

A new study will be recommended to the council Monday night at a proposed cost of about $200,000. It would be completed by Brotcke Well & Pump Engineering of Fenton, Mo., and would include the drilling of two test wells about two miles north of the water plant. The study could be completed in about 60 days, said public works director Doug Leslie.

"If all that is proven to be satisfactory, then those two wells would be retained and can be used later as actual wells in the system," he said.

The $200,000 would not include the cost of lines that would be laid to the new well field or drilling of any additional wells. There are no estimates available on how much more money would spent, Lester said.

City attorney Eric Cunningham said the city has not filed litigation against Burns & McDonnell for the failure of the original study but could not comment on whether any pending litigation is being discussed.

Promises of softer water pouring through Cape Girardeau faucets fell far short of a timetable agreed to by contractors. But in the next two weeks, the last of the equipment upgrades to the plant will be on line and residents should finally enjoy the quality of water they've been asking for, Leslie said.

The entire project at Cape Girardeau's Cape Rock water treatment plant was slated for completion in Feb. 18, 2002 -- 487 days ago.

That tardiness could cost contractor Huffman Inc. of Poplar Bluff, Mo., hundreds of thousands of dollars after the city deducts liquidation damages in the form of $1,000 for every calendar day the project missed deadline, said city administrator Michael Miller.

The construction work by Huffman was bid at $15.6 million -- eating up most of the $17.5 million budgeted to increase the plant's processing capacity from 4.5 million gallons a day to 7.6 million gallons.

In October, the lead process engineer with Burns & McDonnell, Jeff Wassilak, said the contractor had failed to schedule properly or provide enough personnel to get the job done on time.

But George Revelle of Huffman Inc. said most of the problems actually reside with flaws in the engineering firm's designs. Because of this, his firm does not intend to work on any further projects in which Burns & McDonnell is involved, he said.

"We've done projects with them out of other offices and we didn't have any problems," he said. "But the design phase of this project was not finished when we started. Since they've been out of the picture, we've worked very well with the city."

Revelle expects the last phase of the project -- renovating old structures so they will run cohesively with the new ones and site cleanup -- to be finished by the end of June. There are a few change orders in the project that still need to be resolved, he said.

City officials are being more conservative with an expected finish date of mid to late summer, water plant manager Kevin Priester said. After completion, the city will review the entire construction process to see when and how delays were created and by whom.

Huffman will review the process too, Revelle said.

"We have discussed it with them some," he said. "Everyone will review it at that point and decide what's fair and what the contract requires. I think something fair will be worked out."

mwells@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 160

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