Damakant Jayshi

The Wausau Water Works Commission on Tuesday approved nearly $700,000 for a proposal to produce bidding documents and design for the installation of treatment technology at the city’s new drinking water treatment facility, now under construction.

In addition to producing bidding documents and developing a design of a granular activated carbon or GAC treatment technology, the consultants proposed pursuing assistance through Wisconsin’s Safe Drinking Water Loan Program and other funding sources, among other recommendations.

The commission, however, put on hold a proposed continuation of a pilot study pending discussion with Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, which will have to approve any potential treatment plan. The DNR will inspect how the treatment technology works before they approve it, said Scott Boers, Wausau’s Drinking Water Division superintendent.

The proposal on GAC has five main categories: project coordination, design, bidding, funding, and supplemental services. The pilot study is part of supplemental services and it is not clear whether the entire segment is on hold or just the study.

The proposal will deliver workshop materials and notes, an opinion on construction costs, draft and final bidding documents, a loan application draft and a memo on alternative ground water sources. For this, the consultants – Donohue & Associates and Becher Hoppe – asked for a fee of $698,705. The firms have already been paid more than $240,000 for the pilot study.

Commissioners John Robinson and Jim Force questioned the need to extend the pilot study, given the commission already made the decision to implement GAC treatment based on the study’s report.

Robinson said he is very concerned with the already “hemorrhaging costs” that the City of Wausau is incurring on PFAS-related work. “I am not understanding the value of a one-dimensional treatment in a benchmark scale pilot dealing with the long-term needs of the utility,” Robinson said.

Commissioner Force questioned how the costs would be lower since study only addresses PFAS and not any other emerging contaminants.

Susan Wojtkiewicz said “there would be information coming from our pilot study” about any new contaminants. She offered to take the pilot study out of the proposal until receiving feedback from the Wisconsin DNR.

The WWW Commission voted in June to adopt GAC technology in the upcoming $120 million water treatment plant to remove PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals” from water. The GAC technology, cited as a long-term solution for PFAS contamination in the city’s drinking water, will take 18-24 months to complete and cost about $16 million.

A funding plan was presented at that the commission’s special meeting in June. The plan relies on state and federal funding, but those are not guaranteed. Additionally, the plan has a shortfall of $6 million. That resulted in a plan for interim financing in the policy adopted by the Commission.

Director of the Department of Public Works Eric Lindman said the new water treatment plan would be delayed due to some “feeding issues” and the Aug. 16 completion date willnot be met because of the delays. The project began in June 2020.

Steve Opatik from Becher Hoppe, the company overseeing the construction of the plant, estimated a delay of 4-6 weeks. He cited supply chain issues, shipping and delivery, worker shortage and Covid-caused interruptions among the factors causing the delay.

Commissioner’s employer chosen for well location project

Last month, Commissioner Joe Gehin proposed finding new locations for wells as alternatives to PFAS-contaminated existing wells. That suggestion became part of the proposal discussed this week, when Gehin wanted to make sure that the minutes of the June 20 meeting clearly mention that the proposal approved by the commission included seeking new well locations. That task has now been assigned to Becher Hoppe, Gehin’s employer.

Becher Hoppe, an engineering consulting firm, is deeply involved in Wausau’s ongoing water treatment facility upgrades. The supplemental services section has a total budget of $73,760 which included continuing the pilot study, which is now on hold until further discussion. Of this, evaluating the feasibility of alternative groundwater sources, has been allotted $17,550 in taxpayer funding.

A letter from Donohue’s Mike Gerbitz to DPW Director Lindman on July 1 mentions the consulting firms’ roles and states that Becher Hoppe will lead a “cursory evaluation of alternative waster sources,” a suggestion Gehin made on June 20.

The Donohue official’s also letter says Becher Hoppe will lead the design of site improvements and continue to support pilot testing. The ‘design’ category has been allocated largest amount of the $698,705 proposal: more than $450,000. It was not clear how much of this would go to Becher Hoppe.

[For the table on expenses of the $700,000 proposal, click here, and go to page 31. For the letters, go to page 20-22.]