Alabama Utility Takes Steps Toward Public Internet

(TNS) — Decatur Utilities took a step toward a public fiber-optic broadband internet system this week when it hired a consultant to do a financial analysis of the project.

It was one of several expenditures the board approved Monday, including the replacement of a 64-year-old wastewater lift station.

The Municipal Utilities Board approved hiring Uptown Services, of Boulder, Colorado, for $56,000, to handle the internet financial analysis.

Nine firms received requests for proposals and Uptown was one of the eight firms to respond. Electric Manager Glen Boyles said they selected Uptown based on the interview process and feedback from references.

Uptown Services focuses primarily on municipal and public power systems feasibility and planning, Boyles said. The analysis is expected to take about four months.

Board member Tom Counts pushed the internet proposal earlier this year, and said he thought DU could provide faster and cheaper service than private carriers, and that the service could include TV and telephone service.

Joe Wheeler Electric Membership Corp. is in the process of building out a high-speed internet system that it says will eventually be available to its 43,000 customers in Lawrence and Morgan counties. As of last month the service was being provided to more than 2,000 customers, and once the build-out is complete the utility hopes to have 22,000 subscribers. — Other projects

The Municipal Utilities Board also voted Monday to move forward with replacement of the 64-year-old wastewater lift station 7, which would be one of the the most expensive of $29.16 million in projects pre-approved for fiscal 2023. Tom Cleveland, water resources manager, estimated the project at 1604 Fifth Street N.W. could cost between $6.5 million and $7.6 million.

Lift station 7 was built in 1958 and upgraded with new pumps and controls in 1980.

“The lift station is operating beyond its useful life,” Cleveland said.

Cleveland said the project, which is expected to take 18 months, also includes the replacement of about 1,500 feet of 18-inch clay gravity main and 1,600 feet of 10-inch cast iron force main. The useful life for the new lift station will be an estimated 40 years.

The lift station 7 replacement is part of the utility’s ongoing sewer system improvement plan to minimize sanitary sewer overflows that have been a problem in the city. The plan is funded by a $165 million bond and financed with a series of increases in customers’ monthly access fees.

The monthly access fee for Decatur Utilities residential wastewater customers with a typical 5/8-inch meter rose to $26 at the start of 2022 and will rise another $4 per month in 2023.

DU is also planning to spend $1 million on replacing lift station 5, located near 14th Street Southeast and behind Peoples Bank, popularly called ” The Round Bank.”

The utilities board voted to move forward on the $350,000 replacement of 40 filter effluent actuators. They plan to replace actuators that are 25 years old. The work is expected to take about 18 months.

Actuators control water-filter effluent flows to the clearing wells, where the water is disinfected before going into the distribution system, Cleveland said.

The utility board voted to retain contractors for engineering design, bid services, installation, project management and construction inspection of the Clark Springs collector phase 3 replacement. The replacement will cost $3.5 million to $4.1 million. The project features replacing and upsizing about 4,800 linear feet of 18-inch PVC sewer collector main in the Clark Springs area that runs along Duncansby Way Southwest.

The DU board approved the hiring of Pugh Wright McAnally Inc. for the design, permitting and bid services of the Clark Spring project at a cost that’s not to exceed $129,890.

In phase 2, DU replaced a collector line from Academy Sports going west under Danville Road.

“We will pick up phase 3 there and go west to the end of Dunbarton,” said Jimmy Evans, Gas, Water and Wastewater Operations manager. “Then we will have a collector system upsized and ready for any growth in the area that might be coming soon.”

A sewer collector connects with numerous lateral and branch sewers from an area of several hundred acres or a specific neighborhood or housing development. It then conveys the sewage to larger trunk sewer lines, lift stations or a neighborhood package water-quality treatment center.

The project will minimize sewer overflows and increase capacity for future development, Evans said.

Earlier this month, the City Council pre-approved $29.16 million in fiscal 2023 capital projects for Decatur Utilities, including sewer main replacements and upgrades to its gas, water and electric systems.

The council annually pre-approves DU’s planned projects that are expect to cost $100,000 or more.

The projects will be presented to the DU board throughout the year, and if the bids come in above budget, DU General Manager Ray Hardin said they will go back to council for approval of the additional cost.

DU officials said the projects will mostly replace aging parts of its four utilities.

The biggest expense scheduled for this fiscal year is a $10.7 million replacement of approximately 80,000 linear feet of aging defective sewer mains within the DU collection system. The project includes replacing about 1,500 associated sewer services. — Electric, gas systems

Boyles said DU plans to spend $175,000 on substation equipment and $400,000 on transformers as part of the utility’s continued conversion from 4 kilovolt to 12 kilovolt lines that reduce power losses in the system.

“Each year we try to replace one of our oldest substations,” Boyles said. “We recently retired four of our oldest substations. We’ll have two more substations to replace. Replacing an older transformer helps maintain our safety and reliability.”

One area DU has left to convert is on the north side of the city next to the river in the Market Street-Rhodes Ferry Park area.

“We will focus on the conversion of that area in the next couple of years,” Boyles said. “Hopefully, we’ll be finished with all of the conversion by 2026.”

Evans said the utility has replaced several miles of its cast iron and ductile line in the gas system in recent years and now it has about a mile remaining. He estimated this will cost $450,000.

“This is something the federal regulatory agencies really pushed us to do so we remove these leak-potential lines out of our system,” Evans said.

He said replacements are planned in the Lynnwood Drive Southeast, Valley Park Drive Northwest and Eighth Avenue Southwest areas.

DU is planning to install a $115,000 fire alarm system at the 10th Avenue Gas/Water/Wastewater building, where a Dec. 9, 2021, fire destroyed engine bays and two trucks that cost $804,099. The trucks were used for sewer main inspections.

“This system will alert our dispatch ( Morgan County 911) as soon as it senses any smoke so the Fire Department can respond,” Evans said.

One of the larger expenses will be a $1.2 million connector in the Red Bank Road area. Evans said this project “closes out a loop on the outer edges of our gas system in the Burningtree area. It increases reliability to about 600 customers in this area. Right now, if something breaks in that area, we’re going to have 600 customers without service.”

Cleveland said DU is planning to spend $500,000 in improvements to the chemical and pump building, part of the water system.

“We’ve some deterioration on the interior of that building,” Cleveland said. “We want to blast and coat the walls, and replace some of the doors and hardware and some of the electrical components.”

A raw- and finish-water pump rebuild/replacement is expected to cost $175,000.

“We try to rebuild or replace one or two pumps every year,” Cleveland said.

DU has allocated $125,000 for installation of water booster pumps at various water storage tank locations, he said.

“They are constantly changing drinking water regulations, and these pumps keep the water turned over and fresh,” Cleveland said.

Evans said they’re planning to spend $675,000 on aging cast iron water mains that are beyond their useful life in the northwest sections and downtown sections of the city.

DU will rehab about 320 manholes for $365,000. Evans said this work will help to to minimize sanitary sewer system overflows. It will also provide protection against corrosive sewer gases.

© 2022 The Decatur Daily (Decatur, Ala.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.