Tampa Bay Water set to sign $156 million contract for reservoir repair

Tampa Bay Water has found a way to trim the cost of its expensive reservoir repair. Sort of.

The regional utility's board voted in June to negotiate a contract with Kiewit Infrastructure South to repair and ultimately expand its 15.5 billion gallon reservoir, which has been plagued with cracking problems. Kiewit had estimated that fixing the cracks and adding another 3 billion gallons in capacity to the reservoir would cost $162 million.

Now the negotiated contract is coming back to the utility's board for approval Monday, and the cost is now listed as $156 million.

How did they cut the cost? "Magic!" joked Tampa Bay Water general manager Gerald Seeber.

Actually it was a shift in what they allowed for the unexpected.

When Tampa Bay Water sought proposals for fixing the reservoir, he said, the utility asked bidders to include $20 million as an allowance to cover anything that might need to be repaired or replaced.

"We wanted to make sure we could take care of all the problems," Seeber said.

For instance, if the utility's board decided to expand the reservoir, the aeration tower might need to be modified or the road atop the reservoir walls might need resurfacing. The design would determine that.

"It all depended on how they were going to skin this cat," Seeber said.

So really the Kiewit proposal was $142 million, plus the $20 million for unexpected expenses, he said. Once the board picked Kiewit, then during contract negotiations the utility's staff and company officials narrowed down just how much might need to be spent on some of those items, he said.

For instance, he said, "we now know that the aeration tower and the bridge to the tower will have to be replaced."

The final figure they came up with is $156 million for Kiewit's contract — but in addition, they're asking the board to set aside another $6.1 million for any remaining unknowns.

If the board approves the contract Monday, the design work and getting permits should take about a year, he said, which means construction — which requires draining the reservoir — would begin late next summer.

Kiewit is promising to finish the job in 25 months instead of the expected 30, Seeber said.

The utility opened the C.W. Bill Young Regional Reservoir in 2005 to store water skimmed from the Alafia River, Hillsborough River and Tampa Bypass Canal. The reservoir is the largest in Florida, covering about 1,100 acres.

In 2006, workers discovered cracks in the embankment around the reservoir, some up to 400 feet long and up to 15 ½ inches deep. They patched the cracks, but the fix didn't last.

While the cracks do not appear to pose a danger, the cost of fixing them is likely to lead to an increase in water rates for residents in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties.

The utility is suing HDR Engineering, which designed the reservoir. The case is set for trial in Tampa federal court in September. HDR contends the cracks are not serious enough to require such an expensive repair and could instead be handled more cheaply by continuing to patch any that appear.

Craig Pittman can be reached at craig@sptimes.com.

>>FAST FACTS

Water board to vote

Tampa Bay Water's board will vote Monday on a $156 million contract to repair and expand its reservoir. The board will meet in the utility's headquarters at 2575 Enterprise Road in Clearwater. The meeting starts at 9 a.m.

Tampa Bay Water set to sign $156 million contract for reservoir repair 08/12/11 [Last modified: Friday, August 12, 2011 11:57pm]

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