The good news is that residents plagued by murky tap water in an area near Mount Airy will get relief soon — but at a higher cost than expected to city and county government.
A joint effort to address the water-quality issue in the Shay Street/Kimberly Drive neighborhood, located in the Sheltontown area outside the city limits, has been under way by Mount Airy and Surry County officials for more than a year.
Problems with discoloration and contamination led Commissioner Larry Johnson, one of two Mount Airy District representatives on the Surry Board of Commissioners, to label the situation “desperate.”
The solution subsequently reached by city and county officials in early 2017 was to extend a 6-inch public water line 2,750 linear feet from Mount Airy to the affected neighborhood at an estimated cost of $139,150, to be shared 50-50. Their agreement specified that the expense would not exceed $69,575 each.
However, the recent solicitation of bids from contractors to construct the line threw a bit of a wrench into the works.
“It came in high,” City Engineer Mitch Williams advised the Mount Airy commissioners regarding the actual cost during a meeting last Thursday.
“The original estimate was from The Lane Group,” Williams said of an engineering firm that has worked on various utility projects involving the city and county.
The lowest base bid received was $156,574, from King General Contractors of Bristol, Virginia, which was one of seven companies submitting proposals.
“We haven’t seen that kind of interest in a long time,” Williams said of the number of bid participants.
Yet this competition didn’t produce a figure near the original projection, with the city engineer speculating that it proved to be on the low side because contractors “aren’t as hungry” in today’s business climate as they were when it was prepared.
All the base bids fell into the $156,574 to $195,720 range, except for the highest. It was $403,560 from North State Water and Sewer Inc., which Commissioner Shirley Brinkley believes was due to that company not really wanting the job.
In addition to the low bid coming in higher, city officials were told that the final expense has ballooned even more, to a total project budget of $184,300, because of other cost additions. That sum also includes engineering fees of $19,900 and a contingency fund of $7,826 to cover any unforeseen problems.
The post-bid revised budget reflects a total cost overrun of $45,150 — or an additional $22,575 each from the city and county.
City Attorney Hugh Campbell asked Williams at the meeting if Surry officials had agreed to supply their share, and the city engineer replied that he did not know at that point.
The commissioners then voted unanimously in separate actions to award the line-extension contract to King General Contractors and to amend the 2017-2018 municipal budget to provide the extra funds needed to cover Mount Airy’s share of the overrun.
In making the extra allocation, city officials said it was subject to similar approval by the county government.
Summer timetable eyed
Williams said the installation of the new water line will begin in about four weeks and is expected to be completed by early summer.
That should be good news for residents of the Shay Street/Kimberly Drive area, who have reported high levels of iron, unusable water with a bad odor and the need to constantly replace well pumps.
One question mark will concern how many property owners actually hook up to the city water line, which will require a tap-on fee, plumbing costs and the paying of a monthly bill.
Mount Airy officials opted last year — in a split vote — not to require mandatory hookups for everyone in the affected area, under a prevailing belief that user participation will be sufficient without that requirement.
Even under the original cost of $69,575, estimates showed it would take 13.8 years for the city to recoup its up-front expense in the 50-50 split with the county if all residents in the neighborhood were connected.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.