BRUNSWICK COUNTY — Brunswick County has delayed its bidding process for upgrades and expansion of the Northwest Water Treatment Plant by three months.
“The County adjusted the schedule after the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) adjusted its schedule for the NPDES permit review process and several contractors expressed concern regarding the amount of time to prepare bids and their ability to meet the current project schedule,” the county’s spokesperson provided in a comment.
In project addendums released Tuesday, Brunswick County pushed back its original bid date for proposals. Bids were originally due Dec. 12 with a cut-off deadline for questions on Dec. 2. Now, bids for both the $110 million upgrade and expansion project and $7 million concentrate pipeline project are due March 5, 2020.
The county is considering changing the requirement for damages with its upgrade and expansion project but has not yet made a determination.
As the project moves ahead, the county stated it will issue a clarification on construction timelines in the future. Before the bid delay, the county had included strict construction timelines with daily liquidated damages (i.e. a predetermined amount of money for violating terms of a contract) kicking in beyond deadlines.
Though the county fully intends to carry out its plans to upgrade the Northwest Water Treatment Plant with low-pressure reverse osmosis technology, it is bidding out one alternative (out of 10 total) that forgoes the solution altogether.
This no-RO scenario alternative is still on the table given three uncertainties recently offered to inquiring bidders: bid price, project budget, and status of the required and pending National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit (NPDES).
Pre-bid documents show the county is aiming to remove this alternative from consideration, but “the time for deciding has not been determined.”
As is common with what seems like all major construction projects, construction timelines at the Northwest Water Treatment Plant are behind the county’s initial expectation. When the county first announced in May 2018 it would move forward with a low-pressure reverse osmosis (LPRO) water treatment solution following the recommendation of its consultant, CDM Smith, it shared in a press release that construction would begin in June 2019.
In April, the county updated its schedule, anticipating construction would begin in January 2020. With Tuesday’s bids pushed back to March, this construction timeline is no longer possible. Construction is now expected to begin in May 2020. LPRO, depending on which alternative is selected, could become operational by spring 2022, according to a county release.
Expansion of the plant, currently capable of treating a maximum capacity of 24 million gallons a day (mgd), is needed regardless of whether the county encounters speed bumps pursuing treatment upgrades. When plans are complete, the county anticipates the Northwest Water Treatment Plant being capable of treating a total of 45 mgd using conventional water treatment methods (what it currently uses) and 36 mgd using LPRO.
In order to use LPRO, the county must first obtain permission from the state to discharge a maximum of 5 mgd of reject concentrate (that is, a concentrated mix of what’s filtered out of the water) into the Cape Fear River. The Department of Environmental Quality officially issued the county a draft NPDES permit to do so Oct. 31 and will host a public hearing on the permit Dec. 5 in Bolivia.
Original contract documents and an Oct. 30 pre-bid presentation show Brunswick County was initially pursuing an aggressive construction completion schedule related to the project.
The county first included daily liquidated damages associated with completing the projects. If the chosen contractor could not complete constructing the 4.5-mile discharge pipeline before Feb. 1, 2021, daily $2,500 damages would kick in; by July 1, 2021, damages would jump to $10,000.
At least one prospective bidder shared concerns about this timeline and asked whether the county had flexibility working with the schedule due to unforeseen weather events, which the county replied could be honored if abnormal conditions could be demonstrated .
In Q&A pre-bid meeting documents, one bidder said if the county’s notice to proceed is delayed until May 2020, a Feb. 1, 2021 completion date for the concentrate pipeline causes concern with having the adequate time needed to complete work (a notice to proceed [NTP] is issued to a contractor after an award is offered and contract is signed).
As for the upgrade and expansion project (which is being bid separately from the concentrate pipeline project), the county had a firm deadline for all alternatives, with the exception of Alternative 10 which eliminates LPRO solution altogether and would eliminate the need for a discharge pipeline.
This deadline, Dec. 16, 2021, would have required the four out of the eight LPRO filtration systems be installed with daily $5,500 liquidated damages for delays. All alternatives required conventional expansion to be completed by June 30, 2022. Three alternatives would extend the substantial LPRO project completion deadline to April, 28 2023.
At least five alternatives are on track with the county’s anticipated substantial completion goals from April, with work required to be completed by June 30, 2022.
Final completion is due three months from substantial completion deadline for all alternatives.
Big project, rate increases ahead
In a response to concerns, Brunswick County notified bidders it will issue future addendums to clarify construction milestones.
At least for the concentrate pipeline project, instead of a hard Feb. 1, 2021 deadline, the county has updated the deadline to 365 days from the NTP being issued.
The entire $137 million planned project at the Northwest Water Treatment Plant will be funded by revenue bonds. Brunswick County has begun the process of issuing a total of $260 million in revenue bonds to cover multiple infrastructure projects, with its first portion of bonds sold last month.
Both direct and wholesale water rate increases expected to begin in fiscal year 2022 will fund the county’s anticipated debt associated with these improvements. Wholesale partners should expect an 89% rate increase and direct customers could pay $9 more per bill, or 31% more, according to a draft September financial report drafted by the county’s consultant, Raftelis.
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