Mayor plans to dip into city’s reserves to improve water plant

Published 9:02 pm Saturday, September 10, 2016

The fallout from the emergency that left the city of Vicksburg under a boil water notice for almost four days has convinced Mayor George Flaggs Jr. the city needs to start making an investment in the 47-year-old plant to prevent a similar event from reoccurring.

Flaggs said Friday he wants to dip into the city’s reserve fund for the money to begin what is estimated as a $4 million project to replace and upgrade the electrical system at the water treatment plant. He is expected to meet Friday with Aldermen Michael Mayfield and Willis Thompson, Public Works Director Garnet Van Norman, officials with ESG Operations Inc., which has the contract to operate and manage the water treatment plant, and engineers to discuss the work.

Vicksburg went under a boil water notice midnight Aug. 30 after a tree fell on the power lines leading to the city’s well field off Haining Road and Long Lake Road. The power outage caused a drop in pressure at the water treatment plant on Haining Road. It was later responsible for causing the plant’s four pumps to shut down, leaving the city without water for almost 12 hours Aug. 30.

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“The loss of power convinced me that just saying the plant is inadequate is not enough,” Flaggs said. “It’s time to take action, and because of that, I’m going to recommend to the board that we take $1 million out of the $3 million that we placed in reserve in lieu of raising any fees or taxes for that purpose.”

“It is my belief that we should spend at least $1 million a year until we have completely modernized that plant, starting with most important issue, and that is the power source, which is electrical, and how we minimize downtime.”

Replacing the electrical system is the recommendation of a $48,000 study on the plant performed by CDM Smith of Jackson. Besides the incident that occurred Aug. 30, electrical problems were also responsible for breakdowns forcing the water treatment plant shut down in August 2015 and November because of electrical problems, resulting in citywide boil water notices.

The company, which specializes in water and environmental matters, was hired in October to determine the feasibility of privatizing the water treatment plant’s operation and management and prepare a request for proposals to take over the water treatment plant.

It was asked in December to evaluate the water plant and recommend improvements.

A report released by CDM Smith earlier this year recommended the complete replacement and upgrade of the electrical system installed when the plant was built in the late 1960s. The plant went online in 1969.

There are recommendations to improve other areas of the water treatment plant, but the CDM report highlights the problems in the electrical system, which is the key to the overall plant operations. The reports puts the price tag on the electrical work at $3.9 million.

“Electrical equipment typically has a useful life of 20 to 30 years,” according to the report.

“The existing metal-enclosed switchgear and other facility electrical distribution equipment has been in service for over 40 years, and are at the end of useful life.”

The plant uses a 2,300-volt electrical system, which city officials say was the state of the art when it was built, but is no longer the industry standard, which has gone to 480-volt systems.

“The problem with the 2,300-volt system, is no one makes part for it any more,” said Scott Murphy, regional manager for Georgia-based ESG.

He said the other plants ESG operate all run of 480-volt systems.

“With the 480-volt systems, I can get part for it anywhere. There are a number of companies that make and supply parts that I can get and just plug in to replace. Some of them, I can go to Lowe’s and get it if I need them. Most of the plants we run keep spares on hand, so if I needed a part I could call a sister plant.”

Besides the system’s antiquated equipment, a preliminary CDM report issued in December said the switching system is in the basement of the main building, which is cracking, and ground water is seeping into the basement and into the plant’s electrical room.

The subsequent report recommends moving the equipment out of the basement and relocating it in a separate building on the plant grounds.

Flaggs said the Friday meeting will involve discussions with ESG to set a timetable for the first phase of the project on the electrical system.

“I’m just asking them to prioritize the first $1 million phase,” he said. He said he has not looked to see if there could be any grant money available for the project, and has no plans at this point to seek an increase in water rates to pay for the repairs.

“It’s absolutely imperative that we spend the money we have first before we raise taxes or anything,” he said. “I think $1 million will go a long way, when you look at the study.

“This is a good plant,” Murphy said. “It is well-built and well-laid out. But it needs to be modernized.”


About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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