Merrimack’s wastewater treatment plant will temporarily scale back some upgrades after a bid for the project was substantially higher than anticipated.
“The only option, really, is to proceed forward,” said Eileen Cabanel, town manager. “It really must be done before something disastrous happens and we are ordered to do something and clean up.”
Town officials say improvements to the town’s wastewater treatment plant will be prioritized so that as many upgrades as possible can be completed, but within budget.
In April of 2019, voters approved an initial $13.1 million bond, followed by a second bond of $9.5 million in April of 2020 to complete about $22.6 million in improvements to the facility, as well as two pump stations.
However, only one firm — Methuen Construction — offered a bid for the work and the total price tag, including non-construction costs, is $30.3 million, according to Sarita Croce, Merrimack’s deputy public works director. The design estimate value, she said, was closer to $23.8 million.
“We are 33 percent over the engineering estimate,” Croce told the town council last week, noting other projects in different communities are also coming in with bids substantially higher than originally expected.
She recommended that the town council allow the project to move forward, but with some components of work being put on hold.
“We have a lot of equipment issues,” said Croce, explaining the facility is nearly 51 years old. “The plant is definitely in danger of failing.”
Hoses are being held together with duct tape, spare parts for emergency generators are impossible to find, pipes are in desperate need of upgrades and other work is critical, she explained.
“I think we need to do as recommended, and do the best we can with what resources we have,” said Tom Koenig, town council chairman.
There is a possibility that the town could receive about $2.2 million in funds from the American Rescue Plan to allocate toward the project, as well as additional funds from a proposed infrastructure bill.
However, those potential funding sources have not been finalized, explained town officials. If the stimulus money does not come to fruition, Croce said the town may need to consider an additional bond for the work that cannot be completed under this bid.
The improvements are necessary in order to correct safety concerns with existing equipment, fix code-related deficiencies and address issues related to flushable wipes that are entering the plant.
Flushable wipes are currently the biggest problem facing the sewer system, as the degradable wipes are not breaking down as originally intended, Croce explained.
Some of the improvements needed include upgrades at two external pump stations and the main pump station, construction of a new screening building, work on clarifiers, a compost facility and more.
“It is a minimum two-year project. There is a lot of work that needs to be done,” she said.