Red Bank officials are racing this month for a piece of the federal stimulus dole as a way of reducing the wallop of an unexpected $3 million water-system upgrade.
By March 2, the town must complete specs and other paperwork related to the replacement of seven filtration tanks owned by the municipal water utility in order to have a shot at winning zero-interest financing for half the tab, officials said.
If successful, the effort could cut hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest costs over the 20-year life of bonds that would be issued, says borough CFO Frank Mason.
According to engineer Christine Ballard of T&M Associates, there’s nothing wrong with the tanks, four of which are located at the Chestnut Street water well. The other three are atop Tower Hill.
At Monday night’s bimonthly council meeting, borough administrator Stanley Sickels walked through the series of events that led to the decision to replace the tanks.
The filter media in the vessels a mix of charcoal and stones that leach iron out of the well water hadn’t been replaced in about 30 years, he said. But the work had to be done because of periodic iron-related discoloration in tap water, he said.
“Not so easy to do,” though, Sickels said of the job, which requires sending a worker through a narrow aperture only about 16 inches wide to work inside the tank. Not too many people can do that these days, he said, which would mean cutting the vessels open.
In addition, research into the planned project, then forecast to cost $675,000, turned up state Department of Labor regulations covering pressure vessels that the borough couldn’t meet, Sickels said.
One is the requirement that the tanks be tested for their compliance with the manufacturer’s specifications. That data doesn’t exist for the Tower Hill tanks, which were built in the 1880s, and can’t be located for the others, which are about 75 years old, Sickels said.
In addition, the labor department won’t certify any tank held together with rivets, ruling the older tanks out completely, he added.
The regs also require that steel from the tanks be removed and tested.
The public works committee “felt it would be wasted money” to try replacing the filters, Sickels said.
The cost of replacing the tanks is high because both the walls or roofs at both plants would have to be cut open for the replacements to occur, Sickels said.
“The tanks at Tower Hill are pretty much buried in that building,” he said. A temporary filtration system would be installed during the replacement work, he said.
“Once they’re done, hopefully we’ll see improvement in the frequency of water discoloration,” he added.
Sickels said borough officials had gotten assurances from the state Department of Environmental Protection that “this project will be a primary candidate” for stimulus funding, which puts a priority on so-called shovel-ready infrastructure projects.
Financing would be through bonding backed by the New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Trust, said Mason.
Councilman Mike DuPont asked Sickels if the state could shut down the existing tanks because of noncompliance.
“Yes,” Sickels said, adding that the borough would be forced to buy additional water, “out of contract,” from New Jersey American Water Co., at a cost of about $50,000 a month.
The town gets about 200 million gallons of the 553 million gallons used here annually from New Jersey American. The borough’s groundwater pumps are shut down for maintenance in winter months.
Here’s the ordinance regarding the bonding: Download 2009-5