MADISON — Earlier this year, the Village of Somers started a now-halted water main and transfer station project based on a consultant’s recommendation and the threat of material shortages, according to a statement the village submitted last month to the Wisconsin Public Service Commission.
The PSC verbally ordered the village to halt work on its “Water Mains West of the Divide” project in May and initiated an investigation after learning construction on the $5.65 million project had begun without its approval.
In response to the PSC’s questions, the village stated on June 25 that, acting on a recommendation from a “project consultant,” contracts were awarded in January for the water main installation and construction of the transfer station about the time that the Somers Water Utility had applied to the PSC for construction approval.
Douglas Snyder of Baxter & Woodman Consulting Engineers has been the project engineer. On Feb. 17, he and the village’s water utility held a preliminary meeting with officials from the Department of Natural Resources and the PSC.
After the meeting, “the project consultant” understood the DNR and PSC to be supportive of the project, according to the village’s June 25 statement to the PSC.
“Based on the project consultant’s advice and the desire to avoid material shortages and escalated costs, the utility authorized construction to begin in March 2021,” according to the village’s statement.
The utility had been informed by PTS Construction of Green Bay, the contractor for the water main portion of the project, that it wouldn’t be able to obtain pipe if it was not ordered by March.
The village’s June 25 response was unsigned and didn’t disclose the name of the “project consultant,” or who represented the water utility at the Feb. 17 meeting.
On Wednesday, Village Administrator Jason Peters said he, an attorney for the village, a consultant and others helped prepare the statement but declined to be more specific, as the PSC’s investigation hasn’t concluded.
“There will be no further comment from me,” Peters said in a telephone interview.
Snyder said Wednesday that he hasn’t seen the village’s June 25 response, and he didn’t recommend that the village proceed with construction before obtaining approval from the PSC.
“There were other consultants involved,” but he didn’t elaborate on their identities.
The village hasn’t begun construction of the water transfer station as it understands that further approval is needed for that portion of the project.
The village’s June 25 response stated that:
Grading and excavation began on March 22 for portions of the approximate three miles of water main that would be installed. When the project was halted on May 27, water mains had already been installed on 18th Street, 100th Avenue and 12th Street (Highway E) between 100th Ave. and the creek crossing.
The value of the work completed to date is $2.66 million, which is approximately 75 percent of the project’s expected cost. The work includes 10,592 feet of 16-inch water main, 3,293 feet of 12-inch water main and 35 hydrants.
Initially, a project consultant estimated that 40 percent of the water mains had been installed at an approximate cost of $2 million, according to documents previously submitted to the PSC.
Completion date pushed back
Before the project was halted, the water mains were on schedule to be completed by Nov. 24, but Snyder now estimates that the work will not be concluded until April.
The new water main is connected to the existing system and water is available to the Pritzker Archives and Memorial Park property, now under construction along Highway E, although the main has not been tested yet. All the pipe has been delivered, and the village stated that it expects the contractor to request payment for materials and construction to date.
The utility points out that it saved money on material construction costs by not waiting for PSC approval.
Kenosha-based Camosy Construction, the contractor for the transfer station, has ordered a minimal amount of material and reports that material cost increases could bump the station’s cost by $150,000.
The PSC can penalize the utility for beginning construction without approval, including prohibiting it from recovering the project’s cost in a future rate case, or refer the matter to the attorney general for prosecution under state statues.
The utility is evaluating the procedures used when beginning construction projects to ensure it will comply in the future with PSC requirements. The PSC typically requires that of utilities which, like Somers, have been under a cease-and-desist order for a project under construction.
The utility planned the water main and transfer station project to meet increasing demand for water in its territory west of the subcontinental divide.
Buying water from the Kenosha Water Utility and pumping it over the subcontinental divide transfers water from the Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River basins and requires the DNR to determine if that diversion complies with the Great Lakes Compact. That decision is pending.
An environmental assessment completed by the PSC concluded that the project poses no adverse environmental impacts and that a more thorough environmental impact statement is not necessary.