McKibbin’s Scribblin’s: Rifle water plant at crucial point |

McKibbin’s Scribblin’s: Rifle water plant at crucial point

Mike McKibbin
McKibbin’s Scribblin’s
Mike McKibbin
Staff Photo |

Will Rifle’s water plant woes ever end? And will dirt actually get turned this summer? Can the city find enough cost savings in the plant’s design to still move forward without ending up with what might be a stop-gap plant?

The soap opera that has become the city’s $25 million Rifle Regional Water Purification Facility looks like it won’t be ending any time soon. (Why do they always call these new plants “regional” anyway? As far as I know, it’s for the citizens and businesses in Rifle and I don’t think you can call Rifle a “region.” It’s a city. Probably some federal decree of some sort…)

And I don’t mean to criticize the city for how it’s handled the issue, at least in the last two-plus years. The plant has been on the drawing board much longer than that, though, and didn’t seem to attract the attention then that it’s had recently. Not sure if that’s the city’s fault or not. But it does seem the early stages of this process weren’t as much public knowledge as they have been in the last few years.

At any rate, the saga now is at a crucial point. As readers of The Citizen Telegram in recent weeks know, the bids on the new plant came in much higher than the city anticipated. That’s not unusual, according to City Manager Matt Sturgeon, who said recently that Front Range cities have seen their bids for similar projects come in anywhere from 30 to 50 percent higher than anticipated. In Rifle’s case, the $8 million to $11 million more the city was told it would cost to build the plant as designed has forced staff to take a very close look at what they want in a new plant.

Even where they want it, kind of. A few weeks ago, the city hired a firm to do some geotechnical tests of the ground at a site just east of the original site, off the north side of U.S. Highway 6, east of the city’s municipal operations building. If the soils were found to be stable, the city could save money in concrete and foundation work. At last word, those test results were still being studied.

Meanwhile, this week, the city learned their chosen site is also where scientists studying uranium-contaminated groundwater in the area found their highest readings. You can read more about that in today’s issue, but bear in mind the presence of the contaminated groundwater doesn’t appear to be a big concern for the water plant. No groundwater will be used in the operation of the plant. But it does seem to be just another unexpected hiccup in the saga of the new water plant.

So what will the next episode show us? The City Council was to have decided the next step this week, but that decision was delayed. I seem to recall reading somewhere that bids on projects like this are good for 90 days, so there’s a little time left to accept one. If that’s what the City Council wants to do. Pretty unlikely. They could also reject both bids and seek new bids on a less detailed plant design. That sounds to me like it might delay the project yet another year. I hope not.

There are likely a few people who think the current 35-year-old Graham Mesa water plant does the job well enough. I’d say there are many more who say “have you tasted Rifle water?” and see the need for a new, better plant. But I think the city would have to at least look at the three treatment processes included in the plant design as an area for reduction or even elimination to save money. I’d think those kinds of reductions could reduce the effective life of the new plant, with tougher federal water treatment requirements in coming years that the new plant might not be able to meet.

Stay tuned for the next episode of “As The Water Spigot Turns.”

Mike McKibbin is the editor of The Citizen Telegram.

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