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Mayor opposes allocating funds for waterline

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The Roswell City Council last week voted to approve a request for proposal (RFP) and transfer of funds for an active water line from North Atkinson Avenue and East Second Street to the out-of-use Roswell Test Facility on Highway 380.

The scope of work from the RFP passed unanimously with a voice vote — the transfer of funds required more discussion.

Originally, Councilor Jacob Roebuck made a motion to table the transfer of funds, which Councilor Barry Foster seconded. That failed to pass, 5 to 2.

A measure to approve the transfer then passed with Councilors Jeanine Corn Best, Steven Henderson, Juan Oropesa and George Peterson voting for approval, while Angela Moore, Foster, and Roebuck dissented.

City Engineer Louis Najar presented the request for proposal to design a new water line for replacing ‘transite’ — also known as asbestos-cement line. On the council’s agenda, it stated that the city currently has 74 miles of transite line in the water system.

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“We have a few city customers inside the city limits, but if you can picture it, you go out a couple blocks and then you are in the county,” Najar said, replying to Foster’s question whether the city had customers using the line. “But we roughly have 50 meters and one of those meters is the one that feeds Bottomless Lakes State Park and their facilities out there for the domestic water.”

Henderson said he supported the proposal to replace the line to fulfill an obligation to residents and handle the problem. He also said it was important to support Bottomless Lakes and the “tourist benefit it brings to the city.” Best asked if a grant can be found, because the line is watering a state park. Najar said he would do his best to find other resources once the Roswell International Air Center lines are approved by the Department of Finance.

Best also asked if the county had been approached to ‘play ball with the city’ — to which Najar said the line belongs to the city and the county gains no profit from it. Peterson asked Najar if the city crew would be working on this job and Najar said that an engineering firm would create plans and the city would put it out to bid for a contractor.

Najar said he wanted to remove the asbestos line and this would remove the liability of the line for the city. The agenda stated that phase one will remove the 10-inch diameter transite line and replace it with a C-900 line. Removal of the asbestos will require a process Najar called “bagging and tagging” before disposal in the at the Special Waste Facility in Mountainair. He said he would prefer a contractor be in charge of the process rather than the city.

The city will solicit an engineer to design the plan for the project through the RFP process. Through testing and flushing, Najar said it was determined this particular water line is a “high priority that needs immediate attention.”

As far as the timeline of the project, Najar said the RFP would open May 20 and close July 10. He said he hoped the project would be designed by December, a bid would be selected in January, the project built in 9 months and completed in September 2019.

In his presentation, Najar said the estimated design cost is $3,000,000 — which will be transferred from Water-Maintenance & Transmission budget accounts. When Roebuck asked how $3,000,000 was determined Najar said he broke the cost down to $135 per foot for over 22,000 feet of waterline to be replaced. Najar said he expected extra costs for the disposal and any surprises along the way.

Najar said by postponing the Edgewood Project and a large diameter-valve project the funds can be allocated to replace the asbestos to the waterline.

Roebuck asked for more information on the Edgewood project. Najar said the Edgewood project is a $2,000,000 project with two phases near what was the old Edgewood Elementary School — where a 36-inch diameter valve would be fixed at the intersection of East Cherry Street and North Garden Avenue. After this, four miles of water lines would be replaced. Regarding the material, Najar said there is a small amount of transite line and most of the lines are aged, rusted cast iron.

Najar said the Edgewood project had been selected as a priority due to the number of waterline breaks. Mayor Dennis Kintigh also added that there were four mainline breaks in a 30-hour period at the beginning of the month.

“I just know how many waterline breaks we’ve had in the last two weeks,” Foster said. “Edgewood area is definitely in need of those placements. What I am thinking of is what’s going to happen is if we allocate the $3,000,000 and fix it — then we have emergency water breaks that we are going to have to pay for and fix anyway. So we are still going to be spending the 3,000,000 fixing the Edgewood lines and we are going to be at a loss.”

Najar said fixing the Edgewood lines is still a priority and he is requesting funds in the 2019 fiscal year for the project.

After the councilors had the opportunity ask questions, Mayor Dennis Kintigh said he would break from normal tradition because he had serious reservations about the project after meeting with City Manager Joe Neeb and Najar that same day.

“This is my problem with this project,” Kintigh said. “We are taking $3,000,000 away from our residents to spend on a project that is almost entirely outside of our city limits. I understand we have customers. I understand we are serving the Bottomless Lakes.”

Kintigh said the origins of the line were unknown to him and he found it “hard to conceive that the city of Roswell would have placed four miles of line outside the city limits.” Kintigh said Department of the Interior operated that test facility and he had his own speculations on who was responsible for it.

“We are in fact turning our back on residents in the Edgewood Elementary Area,” Kintigh continued. “That troubles me greatly. I would like to see alternatives to spending this money and delaying these projects. If this means we have to truck water, I would rather do that than stop caring for our own residents. However, as we all know I do not have a vote.”

“I don’t think that we are doing a disservice to those individuals in that area — even though that area is my area,” Oropesa said. “But the way I see it is, I don’t want to have a Flint, Michigan situation in our hands. If that line busts or whatever and asbestos comes out — those kinds of things that create problems for the community. I would rather see us get the money, invest in it, (and) get it done. Get it out of the way, and be done with it.”

Najar said he “respectfully disagreed with the mayor” and referred the water pressure issues last week in the city. For the mayor’s question on the history of the line, Najar said the earliest record states in 1959 the military came to the city to tie on to that line and connect it to the Atlas Missile Site completed in 1961. Najar said since the city has been an operator since 1959 — the city is responsible and he would not like the state to ask for it to be fixed or shut down.

“I’m of the opinion we have to just fix the problem,” Najar said. “Take the bitter pill, take the medicine, and go on. We are an operator. We are responsible for the water quality. That’s what people rely on us to do and we want to take care of that problem.”

Councilor Best asked if it would be wise to investigate the concerns the mayor raised and Najar said research has happened in the past and the project was approved by the New Mexico Environment Department.

Foster asked about lining the waterline instead and Najar said alternatives like lining will be examined before construction. Foster said for roughly $60,000 a well, wells could be dug for the 50 customers of the line. Kintigh reiterated that he was concerned the city does not have alternatives to funding these projects and said the idea of drilling wells is not trivial.

“Whether we were at fault or whatever for having that line out there, I guess at this point it really doesn’t matter,” Oropesa said. “The fact is we own the line and we owe those individuals out there, whether they are city of Roswell residents or county residents, but we are providing the service to them and so I think we owe them the service that they are paying for. And so, I am of the opinion that we need to go ahead, take care of it and be done with it.”

City/RISD reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.