Water-plant issue is line in the sand

Monday, October 28, 2002

It wouldn't be perfect, but the softer water would leave a lot fewer spots on the dishes, not build up so much on the bathroom faucets and be far easier on the water heater.

Residents are getting a little well water, but they're still getting a lot of Mississippi River water too.

It appears to be the result of a breakdown in communication between the project's engineer and contractor, coupled with adequate oversight on the part of city government.

Voters passed a bond issue in 1996 and began paying a quarter-cent sales tax in 1997 to pay off the $17.5 million bond issue to cover the cost of a new water-treatment plant. It seemed well worth the money. Cape Girardeau had faced drought conditions in the mid-1990s, and city residents had been urged to conserve instead of watering lawns and washing cars.

The new plant would pull water from 10 wells on the banks of the Mississippi instead of from the river itself. And it would increase the plant's capacity to 7.6 million gallons a day from 4.5 million gallons. The reserve capacity would go to 1.75 million gallons from 400,000 gallons.

Basically, short of the city growing exponentially or a giant industry moving in, there would be plenty of water for everyone every day.

The dream was slated to become reality in February. By July, the city was in water-plant limbo, operating both the river system and the well system while work was being completed on a new filtration system.

It is still in limbo, with contractor Huffman Inc. of Poplar Bluff and engineering firm Burns & McDonnell locked in a battle over the specifications for a lime feeder to soften the water. It's not helping residents get the water they're paying for any faster.

And now the city is charging Huffman $1,000 for each calendar day, a fine stipulated in the contract if the Feb. 18 deadline for completion were missed.

City manager Michael Miller says it's too early to tell whether Huffman will pay the quarter-million-dollar fine that has been run up so far or will strike a deal. Fortunately, the city hasn't made the final $1.2 million payment for the new plant.

Councilman Matt Hopkins suggests the problem could be the city's bidding process. Taking the low bidder doesn't always mean getting the best deal, especially when situations like this arise.

It's too late to do anything about that this time. And it's too late to take corrective action before the deadline to see that it would be met.

At this point, company owner Mike Huffman should bear in mind that he might want to do business in Southeast Missouri again, and his reputation is at stake. Miller and other city officials must do what they can to make sure this $1,000-per-day fine sticks, making an example for other contractors who would take the taxpayers' money and then not perform to standard.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: