The final countdown

It’s not hard to frown, when the hour’s early and you’ve just heard (surprise!) about yet another delay in getting the Mills River Water Treatment Plant on-line. That’s what Regional Water Authority board members did at their Oct. 19 meeting, when they got the news from Water Resources Director Tom Frederick.

The bad news this time: A subcontractor required to be present for the new facility’s final test simply walked off the job one recent Friday. When asked why, Frederick said he wasn’t sure, but emphasized that the main contractor, Metric Construction, was making “every effort” to get the needed subcontractor back in town.

The new plant was originally scheduled to start pumping 5 million gallons per day into the water system this past January. On hearing Frederick’s latest news, Authority members were too dismayed to say a word.

Fortunately, the situation was resolved within a week, and the plant is now, finally, pumping water. If everything runs smoothly during this 30-day test — due to end around Thanksgiving — the plant will just keep on pumping, and the contractor’s work will be done, says Frederick.

In other Water Authority news from the Oct. 19 session:

• Board members chose to postpone electing a new chair until January (former Chair Charles Worley was not reappointed by Asheville City Council this past month). Vice Chair Jack Tate — a Henderson County appointee — will fill in until the board votes on a new chair. Board member William Moyer asked what would happen if Tate missed either of the next two monthly meetings. Joked attorney Craig Justus, who was filling in for Authority attorney Phillip Smith, “You let me run the meeting.”

• Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Chair Tom Sobol‘s term on the Water Authority board expired Sept. 30, but Buncombe officials have a plan. They proposed that the Authority amend its bylaws, which limit board members to two terms. County Attorney Joe Connolly suggested that sitting Buncombe and Henderson County commissioners and Asheville City Council members be allowed to serve three terms on the Authority board. Water Authority board members had little to say about the idea (although Gary Semlak remarked that, perhaps, the term extension should apply to all appointees). The suggestion was referred to the Policy and Priorities Committee. And Sobol joked that he wouldn’t be offended if Authority members didn’t cotton to the idea: “I’ll adjust to the loss of income — about $25 a month — if [you] don’t approve this,” he said.

• Engineering consultants Camp, Dresser & McKee will continue working full time on the Mills River project until it’s up and running, Authority board members decided. The extra cost of keeping the consultants on board to oversee the job (about $100,000) could be recouped through late charges and penalties on the contractors responsible for the delays, Frederick mentioned.

• Board members noted that long-range growth projections for Asheville, Buncombe and Henderson suggest that the Mills River Plant’s capacity will need to be expanded to 10 million gallons per day by the year 2010, and to 20 mgd by 2020.

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About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

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