Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

Temporary Water Treatment Plant Nearly Ready

By Pat Caldwell


Baker City's temporary UV water treatment reactor is in place and will soon be on line, but City Manager Mike Kee said he isn't ready to heave a sigh of relief or consider the specter of last summer's cryptosporidium crisis to be exiled.

At least not yet.

The City Council made a leap forward regarding a final solution to the crypto threat Tuesday when it approved a Guaranteed Maximum Price Amendment with the James W. Fowler Co., for the construction of a permanent UV facility. The decision effectively puts the wheels in motion for the firm to begin the $3.1 million venture.

"It (the temporary UV reactor) is in. It is not operating, but it is installed," Kee said.

Kee said the temporary reactor should be operating by next week. Once the temporary reactor is online one of the final chapters in a controversial saga that began last summer should be closed. Kee said, however, that the temporary UV system was always viewed by city officials as a stop-gap measure.

"Because, I mean, the end of the race has always been getting the permanent UV in place. Then we can step back and take a sigh," he said.

In fact, Kee said, the decision to acquire a temporary UV reactor is a new concept.

"This temporary one just came up, probably a short time ago, maybe three months ago. Our engineers got the idea that maybe there is something out there that will get us through the period until we get the permanent UV online. Our plan before was to go as fast as we can to get the permanent one online," he said.

That should happen before the end of 2014.

The temporary UV reactor furnishes the city with a safety cushion of sorts in case of another positive crypto test - none of the twice-weekly tests has detected crypto since August.

"We know we won't be boiling water, unless there is some kind of fault to that system at the same time we get a crypto hit, which is unlikely," Kee said.

Even though a conjunction of unlikely events regarding the city's water treatment system is unlikely, this hometown saga does appear to be one plagued by ill-luck, misconceptions and unanswered questions from the start.

Yet Kee pointed out a water-quality worst-case scenario would put the city where it is now.

"We'll go back to testing and we'll control the water like we did last summer, through different drainages," he said.

Kee said there are some advantages to the Guaranteed Maximum Price Amendment for the $3.1 million permanent UV reactor project but conceded the proposed outlays for the venture have climbed over time.

"The price has gone up as we've worked on this. Some of it is just that the cost of construction has gone up, some of it is because we are going to borrow some money on this and that kicks a 'Made in America' element to the project," he said.

The "Made in America" component translates into a tightening of options for materials, he said.

"So some of the steel that may be more economical somewhere else, we will have to pay a higher price. There are several little things like that," he said.

One advantage to the GMP Amendment, he said, is the long-term costs should be lower than expected.

"The good thing is the $3.1 (million) is a maximum cost. The idea of doing it this way is we will realize all kinds of savings when we get specific on details," he said.