Waterline project can’t stand another delay

Published 12:10 am Sunday, August 16, 2015

The plans for Vicksburg’s auxiliary waterline are stalled while city officials and representatives for IMS Engineers, the project engineers, try to find ways to reduce the cost of the proposed project so it is affordable.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen Monday rejected four bids for the project because all were double or more than double the project’s $3.565 million budget — between $7.329 million and $8.57 million.

It didn’t have to be that way.

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Plans to build an auxiliary waterline began in 2010, when a landslide at the construction site for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s Lower Mississippi Museum and Interpretive Center threatened the city’s 32-inch main line and demonstrated the need for a backup line in case something happened to damage the main line and cut off water service to the city’s 10,000 customers.

But somewhere along the way, activity slowed to a snail’s pace, despite the real need and urgency for an auxiliary line. It wasn’t until February 2014 — almost four years after discussions on the extra waterline started — that the project began reaching high gear.

In the years between, the cost of construction went up and the original almost $3 million estimate jumped to $3.2 million and later $4.2 million before dropping to the current $3.565 million, the city has undergone two water scares when leaks appeared to be coming from the main line. One was a false alarm. The other a small leak city crews easily repaired.

Had the administration in 2010 acted with the same sense of emergency the current board is using, the waterline would have been built.

Granted, the delays were not all the early administration’s fault. A route had to be selected, plans drawn and permits and rights of way granted for the line to move from the water treatment plant on Haining Road to its proposed connection with a line on Jackson Street. But most of the permits and rights of way were acquired within the past year, and with the city ready to sign a contract, the bids came in too high, causing another delay.

And there is some concern now over what the city will be able to do to adjust the plans to get contractors to propose bids within the project’s budget. Public Works Director Garnet Van Norman, upon whose advice the city will rely, said Saturday there are some parts of the plans that can be adjusted and still meet Mississippi Department of Health guidelines, but he also said the changes may not be enough to bring the bids down.

The city’s waterline is important not just to Vicksburg’s residents, but also to our tourist industry and the ability to attract conferences and conventions and other events that help the city coffers. A broken main waterline could reduce our ability to bring in the tourist dollars that help keep the city going.

During the four years the waterline project was on autopilot, we lost the opportunity to haveit already in place and built at a price the city could afford.

“It’s a big project, and it’s a very serious project,” North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield said.

“I’m hoping within the next couple of weeks we would at least be able to start in a new direction with this project. You don’t get but one shot to get this project right. One shot.”

We’ve already missed one opportunity. We can’t afford to miss a second. We need to get it done.