Press-Republican

August 4, 2013

City of Plattsburgh mulls Mead Dam repairs

By JOE LoTEMPLIO Press-Republican
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — Bids for repairs to a City of Plattsburgh dam have come in way over estimates, causing the Common Council to reconsider its options.

“We are going to have to re-evaluate the overall scope and costs of this project, and we will work with the appropriate state agencies to come up with a a solution that meets everyone’s needs,” Mayor Donald Kasprzak told the Press-Republican.

“There is a lot more information that we need to get now, and we will be working on that.”

OUT OF COMPLIANCE

In 2009, it was determined that the spillway on the 92-year-old Mead Dam off Rand Hill Road in the Town of Plattsburgh does not meet modern requirements. The spillway is a structure that controls the release of water overflow to prevent damage to a dam.

The spillway chute — a long concrete slide that carries overflow into a nearby stream — also needs to be replaced.

The dam controls water at the city’s reservoir. Water is gravity-fed from the reservoir to the city’s filtration system plant on Hammond Lane, also in the Town of Plattsburgh, just west of the city boundary.

From there, it is delivered to the city.

HIGHER BIDS

The city, based on information from consultant CHA of Albany, estimated the cost for the repairs to be about $3.8 million.

But bids recently received from contractors to perform the work ranged from $6.9 million to as high as $8.5 million.

City Environmental Engineer Jonathan Ruff surmised the bids came in higher than expected because the contractors believed the designs for the improvement were more complex than presented in the specifications of the project. Also, the cost of reinforced concrete has gone up since the work was outlined.

Ruff said the project is being re-evaluated to see if the changes on the dam and the spillway can be modified.

The state must approve any plans for the changes.

USERS BILLED

In February of last year, the council approved an Infrastructure Investment Charge on water users’ bills to pay for the work.

It amounts to a monthly surcharge of 95 cents for water users with a 5/8 meter and $1.90 per month for those with a 3/4 meter. Most residential users in the city have 5/8 meters.

The money raised through the charge has been going into a dedicated fund that cannot be used for anything else.

ASSESSMENT CHANGE

Another factor to be considered is how the improvements would affect the value of the dam property. The assessment is expected to go up for the city-owned dam, which means the property taxes the city pays the town would also rise.

“This is all part of the financial analysis that we have to do,” Ruff said.

The Mead Dam property is assessed at $1,241,058, according to Town of Plattsburgh Assessor Brian Dowling. That figure is established by the state instead of the town because the dam is considered a utility.

Taxes for the city amount to $10,128.75 per year to the town for land tax and $24,352.75 to Saranac Central School District.

Once repairs on the dam are done, the state will re-assess the property based on the cost of the project, Dowling explained.

“The taxes could double or even triple or quadruple,” he said.

ALTERNATIVE METHODS

In addition to looking at ways to modify improvements to the dam, Ruff said, the city is also considering building a filtration plant in the city to draw and purify water from Lake Champlain instead of utilizing the dam.

Another alternative could be drilling wells, Ruff said.

“Our goal is to get all the information we need to make a solid decision,” he said.

Councilor Chris Jackson (D-Ward 6), who serves on the council’s Infrastructure Committee, said the city should take a serious look at alternatives for its water source.

“When you look at the long-term cost over the next 20 to 30 years for our three dams, the Water Filtration Plant and the distribution system from the dam to the plant, that is where very tough but informed decisions need to be made about the future direction that we should pursue, based on safety, reliability and affordability,” he said in an email to the P-R.

Jackson also said the city has talked to the town about possibly sharing water services and will continue to do so.

“The initial conversation was positive, and the door is open to future discussions,” he said.

NO SAFETY ISSUES

The mayor said they will work with the state to figure out a way the city can make the repairs for less cost while still meeting codes.

“In the meantime, the dam is still structurally solid, and there should be no concerns about its safety,” Kasprzak said.

Ruff said the dam is inspected daily by city staff and every three months by state inspectors. 

Kasprzak said that while the project is costly, the work has to be done.

“These are the types of decisions administrations have to make because having solid infrastructure is key to the success of any community,” he said.

“These improvements are expensive but necessary, and we don’t take them lightly.”

Email Joe LoTemplio:jlotemplio@pressrepublican.com