Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 8:52 PM on Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Water-sewer project out to bid — again

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer

For the second, and Homer Public Works Director Carey Meyer hopes the final time, Kachemak Drive Water and Sewer Improvements Phase 2 has gone out for bid.

If everything goes as planned, the bids will be opened May 19, a bid will come in within budget and construction can finally begin. If everything doesn't go as planned ... well, that's a scenario Meyer is hoping to avoid.

Meyer met with Kachemak Drive property owners and residents last week to explain the status of the project, the reason it is being re-bid and the approach being used to ensure it continues to move forward.

"We put it out to bid in November 2010 and there were some irregularities in the bids that kept us from awarding the project," Meyer told the Homer News.

Specifically, the lowest bidder made errors in the bid significant enough that "we couldn't award the project so we were stuck with rejecting all the bids and doing it all over again," said Meyer.

Five bids were received. The lowest bid, the one that contained errors, was the only one within the budgeted amount.

The project begins at the intersection of East End Road and Kachemak Drive and continues south along Kachemak Drive. It will deliver water and sewer utilities to 88 lots, half of them having structures. An LID, local improvement district, of the affected lots was created about six years ago. Generally, it takes two to three years to collect the information needed to proceed with a project of this nature, to go through the design process, obtain the necessary permits and go out to bid.

"But this project has taken longer. It's more complicated and a larger project," said Meyer.

Environmental permitting took longer than usual, the area's wetlands complicating matters. Eminent domain was used to acquire some rights of way, causing more delay.

"And there's been a lot of questions asked by the community about the impacts of the project, which took some time to answer, whether the project would adversely affect bluff erosion, the impact to the wetlands. We had one federal agency who adamantly stated that cutting vegetation along Kachemak Drive would adversely affect the moose population on the entire Kenai Peninsula," said Meyer.

"These aren't just superfluous issues. They need to be dealt with. The world's become more complicated. We've got more permits, more people looking over our shoulder asking whether we're doing the right thing."

At the same time the project is being re-bid, the city also is exploring the possibility of reducing the cost. A variance requested from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation would allow the water and sewer main to be installed in the same trench in the wettest sections of the route.

"That should influence the bids to be lower. We believe from discussion with DEC that they're in agreement that a variance is justified. We just don't have the letter from them yet," said Meyer.

When the project was first created, an engineering estimate placed the cost at $2.6 million. A more recent engineering estimate places it at $2.9 million.

"Fuel prices have gone up. There are all sorts of things that impact costs," said Meyer.

To address those changes, the city is going through a formal process to raise the engineer's estimate for the project "so that if the bids are a little higher than what we're hoping, we would be able to award the project," said Meyer.

Property owners will have a 60-day period during which to object or not object to the increase of the engineer's estimate. If a majority object, the project will cease to move forward.

Concern about associated costs drew attention at the April 19th meeting. In addition to an increased assessment, each property owner also will be responsible for the cost of connecting to the utilities. That amount differs depending on how close structures sit in relation to the front property line, where water and sewer hook-ups will be located.

"Some people might have assumed the assessment meant connecting right up to the house," said Meyer. "That isn't the way it was explained when the LID was created or the way any other LID was done."

Provided all the pieces finally fall together, construction could begin this summer, with work continuing through the winter and completing by next spring.

"This is a little unusual. It's not how I'd like to proceed with a project, but based on where we are with the project, I want to do everything I can to get the highest probability that we can get the construction going this summer," said Meyer.

"In my mind, we've missed several construction seasons and I don't want to miss another. If we're going to miss one, it won't be my fault."

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben. jackinsky@homernews.com.