White Bird

Groundbreaking on an overhaul of the civic water system in White Bird is set for Feb. 11, barring any unforeseen developments.

WHITE BIRD – New digs on a civic water system overhaul under planning for years appear set to begin next month. With city officials sounding sanguine, with Cook & Sons Construction, LLC, of Grangeville under contract for the construction, and with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers having documented no significant impact ahead of a public comment period that opened last week, groundbreaking is penciled for Feb. 11.

Mayor Homer Brown and clerk Sandy Murphy both told the Free Press Jan. 25 that getting the work done after so much time in planning comes as a relief for people around town.

The Corps will fund 75 percent of the costs on the work, which is set to include “installation of mechanical and plumbing parts for the headworks, lagoons, and lift station; and purchase and installation of the concrete vaults, lift stations, and pond liners.”

According to a draft the Corps published for 15 days of public comment on Jan. 23, federal funds are set to amount to about $500,000 of the anticipated $668,000 cost.

During the spring election of 2014, White Bird voters had approved, 25-3, a bond “not to exceed $2.5 million.” The city has so far committed to repaying a $254,500 bond fronted by the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality.

With the project, White Bird water and sewer system users are seeing bigger utility bills: The base sewer rate is up to $45 per month from $40, the base water rate is up to $27 per month from $25.75, and for the first time, the city is billing high-volume users – those using more than 5,000 gallons per month – 32 hundredths of a cent per gallon. The rate for less than 5,000 gallons per month is 16 hundredths of a cent per gallon.

The Corps’ review notes many “major components of the system” are in need of repair, only some of which will be addressed by the current project: three of the four existing surface aerators have failed; the liners of lagoon cells need to be replaced; only one of the operating pumps is serviceable; and the existing collection system has been shown to have excessive inflow and infiltration and is in need of repairs.”

It may not be possible to discern the improvements’ immediate impact on water quality in White Bird Creek, as city officials have pointed out the lack of historical baseline monitoring upstream of the facility, but weekly sampling downstream from the facility has begun this year.

In the wake of a system failure that left the town without water for more than two weeks in late 2017, the city was last year awarded a federal grant totaling $964,000 for a separate waterworks project through ECWAG, USDA Rural Development’s Emergency Community Water Assistance Grant program.

Concerning other recent city developments, White Bird’s new fire station – a 36x56 building begun last November – is progressing toward completion, with doors, wiring and insulation still to be finished. Completion of changes at city hall – including an ADA-accessible bathroom, an improved council chamber and fresh paint – is anticipated before the council’s next meeting, 6 p.m. Feb. 13.

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