HARPERS FERRY – After delving through new project costs, timelines and scopes, the Harpers Ferry Town Council unanimously voted to approve a $6.3 million federal loan to fund and jump-start an infrastructure overhaul of the town’s water service utility.
Planned for almost a decade, the nearly complete system improvements and replacements at the Harpers Ferry Water Works hit a major roadblock last month after contractors submitted bids that far exceeded the project’s available funding.
The lowest contractor proposals for two planned phases of the project totaled $9.7 million, $3.4 million more than the funding the town had acquired from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The 38-year USDA loan funding the project had already prompted two water rate increases, an initial 5 percent rate jump adopted in April 2019 and a 29 percent water rate increase imposed in November.
The project includes upgrading or reengineering a variety of infrastructure and systems throughout the town’s water plant off Bakerton Road. A second phase involves replacing a web of leaky, deteriorating underground water pipes and valves connecting to about 830 homes and businesses in and around Harpers Ferry, Bolivar and Bolivar Heights.
On Monday, the Town Council also approved a contract $5.3 million proposal from Alvarez Contractors of Spring Dale, West Virginia, to complete the first phase of filters, tanks, pumps, meters and other system replacements throughout the town’s water treatment plant off Bakerton Road. Alvarez Contractors was one of three companies to submit proposals for the plant’s infrastructure upgrades.
Snyder Environmental Services, a subsidiary of Jefferson Utilities in Kearneysville, turned in a $6.2 million proposal to conduct the plant’s system replacements. Jefferson Utilities, a company providing water to more than 2,900 customers in Jefferson County, had formally sought to replace the Harpers Ferry Water Works.
The West Virginia Public Service Commission reviewed the matter and in 2019 gave town officials an OK to keep control of their municipal water system. That decision also freed the town to pursue the infrastructure improvement project.
As far as the second phase of the waterworks project, Harpers Ferry council members accepted a plan to gradually replace water pipes over the next few years. The money to do that will mainly come from annual savings from a lower interest rate the town plans to obtain on its USDA loan.
Chris Styer, the chief water operator for Harpers Ferry Water Works, said plans call for completing the first phase of the plant system replacements within a year.
In other waterworks developments, Styer announced that a major water main leak that was recently discovered and fixed had lowered the utility’s overall water loss rate through its delivery pipes to about 16 percent in January.
The utility had been losing water through its pipes at a rate of 40 to 50 percent per month. Its most recent water loss was within acceptable standards promoted by the Public Service Commission, Styer said.
Styer said the water main break that was fixed had been wasting much of the town’s treated water for a decade or more.