Water projects on tap for Lake Elmo

Two major projects received a unanimous “go-ahead” vote from the Lake Elmo City Council on Oct. 18, bringing the city two steps closer to a significant increase in municipal water.
The council authorized City Engineer Tom Prew to prepare plans for a project that will extend water service to three new neighborhoods in the northern sector of Lake Elmo at a cost of at least $485,000. Shortly after, council members also advanced the construction of a new 750,000-gallon elevated water tank by awarding Chicago Bridge & Iron Constructors the project contract.
A 750,000-gallon tank is a 50 percent increase from the 500,000-gallon tank the city initially planned and bid for. But, as Prew explained to the council, the extra gallons provide a safety buffer for when water use peaks in the summer and will accommodate more future residents.
“Since we first did a feasibility study on the water tank, we’ve completed our (comprehensive) plan,” Prew said of the 25-year plan for city development currently under consideration by the Metropolitan Council. “The service areas we see it being a part of are bigger than what we thought they’d be.”
The larger tank makes economic sense as well, Prew said. Because Chicago Bridge & Iron only charged about a quarter of the cost per gallon after 500,000 gallons, the project will still meet budget constraints despite being half its size larger.
Prew recommended including three alternative options with the tank, which the council accepted. The new tower will feature a mezzanine platform for storage of telecommunication equipment and, potentially, an additional color for exterior paint (colors have not yet been settled on). After factoring in a $27,000 deductible for not building a below ground valve containment vault, the total cost of the project came in at about $1.15 million.
According to staff, that price, when added to the cost of a new public works facility to be built on the same eight-acre plot near Highway 5 and Ideal Avenue, will fall within the $2.1 million budget for the entire project.
“It seemed like a very sound decision,” Mayor Dean Johnston said of the size increase. “The difference in price seemed to give us a lot more capability for very little additional cost.”
Johnston also endorsed the decision to build the structure in a composite style with a concrete (as opposed to steel) column. Prew explained that a metal tower would need to be painted about every 15 years at a cost of around $75,000. Though the concrete base would cost $70,000 more than steel to build, the city would recoup that cost many times over by not needing to repaint.
In order for the city to meet its goal of completing the tower next year, Prew said a decision needed to be made at the meeting (despite the fact that the council was only given the recommendation that night because Prew had just received the three bids on Oct. 12). The engineer stressed that, with the recent hurricane devastation in the gulf area, building materials were quickly becoming short in supply.

Northern endeavor
Like the new tower, construction on a new water extension from the city’s 55th Street municipal well east, through three proposed housing developments, will not begin until spring 2006.
The new neighborhoods, Discover Crossing, Deer Glen and The Sanctuary, as well as Lakewood Church’s approved 650-seat house of worship, all fall south of Highway 36 between Keats Avenue and the eastern Lake Elmo border. When all the projects are completed, the total number of housing units available should be about 120.
According to Prew, that could mean as many as 312 new “holes” in the city’s aquifer if the neighborhoods utilize private wells rather than city water. With a recent outbreak of private well contamination in the Tablyn Park and Lake Elmo Heights developments (also scheduled to receive municipal water soon) from 3M chemical dumping in city landfills, the council did not want to risk further problems.
“Groundwater contamination has been a major consideration for expansion of the municipal water system,” Johnston said. “Anytime you drill a hole into an aquifer, you risk contamination. ... Minimizing the amount of holes only helps minimize (the risk of) contamination.”
During Prew’s presentation Oct. 18, he explained that the north water extension would consist of a link from the 55th Street well to the Sanctuary development, then to Discover Crossing, then to Deer Glen and finally a link to the neighborhoods around Keats Avenue.
Each new link would also have to be “oversized” with a 16-inch water main, costing anywhere from $65,000 to $75,000 each time. In addition, the city would need to acquire easements on the private property that the new piping would be traveling through, costs that Prew said would be determined during the acquisition process. Without those easements factored, the total project was estimated at $485,000.
However, Prew noted that the city would be collecting about $405,000 in water connection fees from new residents of the three neighborhoods. In addition, he estimated the amount of revenue the city would eventually pull in from property not yet developed that would be utilizing the new water main - potentially $675,000. After subtracting the cost of construction from the total future connection fees, the city stands to make as much as $595,000 in net revenue.
Prew outlined the larger plan of eventually connecting water from Keats Avenue to the new water tower along Highway 5 and completing the city loop down to the Tablyn Park area.
With the council’s recent approval, the engineer said the next step would be to begin purchasing easements from private property owners. As long as that process went smoothly, he did not foresee any hiccups coming from the city’s partnership with the area’s developers.
“I don’t anticipate any problems,” Prew said. “For most of this project, we’re piggy-backing on the developers.”

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