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Problems persist, but final fix nears for Baxter water treatment plant

With the water treatment plant being shut down for repairs for over a year due to filtration failures in its plant, the Baxter City Council and the Utilities Commission had a joint meeting in a special session Tuesday, March 22, at Baxter City Hall.

Two workers in the water treatment plant.
In a special joint meeting Tuesday, March 22, 2022, at Baxter City Hall, members of the Baxter City Council and the Utilities Commission address the additional financial needs to make repairs.
Tim Speier / Brainerd Dispatch

BAXTER — Working to bring the Baxter water treatment plant back online before the influx of people this summer, the Baxter City Council and the city’s Utilities Commission had a joint meeting in a special session Tuesday, March 22, at Baxter City Hall.

With the water treatment plant being shut down for repairs for over a year due to filtration failures in its plant, city staff continues to find problems that were not budgeted for.

The meeting was called to address the additional financial needs to make the repairs and to advise the council of the project's timeline, as Baxter continues to receive water from Brainerd.

Man looks at  a control screen in the water plant.
Baxter's Streets and Utilities Lead Maintenance worker Scott Sehlito prepares to run some tests Wednesday, March 23, 2022, at Baxter's water treatment plant.
Tim Speier / Brainerd Dispatch

“The existing sludge flow meter in the plan did work when the plant shut down,” said Kevin Young, project engineer with Short Elliott Hendrickson Inc. “As staff is now going through and getting everything in the plant ready to start back up, they're finding things here and there.”

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Currently, the city of Baxter is purchasing water from Brainerd Public Utilities to offset filtration failures in its water treatment plant, said Public Works Director Trevor Walter.

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In a March 2021 meeting, Baxter City Administrator Brad Chapulis and Walter said this is only the first in a list of steps the city will have to take to overhaul the city’s water treatment facilities and ensure they’re viable for the long term.

Nearing the end of the project, Walter said they are on a strict timetable as delivery of the filter material has run into some unforeseen delays.

Communicating those delays with Brainerd, Baxter was told they are receiving all the water Brainerd is able to give and if the project is delayed, Baxter should be prepared for a water restriction in April.

With a cost increase of $27,276.40, moving the substantial completion date from April 1 to April 29 and a final completion moved from May 6 to June 30, Baxter Mayor Darrel Olson asked how some of these problems were not originally budgeted for.

“When we were in there and started putting the contract together for the project, all the filters were dry, so nothing was noticed in the hallway,” Walter said. “I don't think it was leaking before. I think it's because that concrete has sat for over 12 months dry, that it shrunk, and that crack opened up again.”

Included in the cost increase is a request for $7,086.71 for crack injection sealing; $8,284.94 to replace the sludge flow meter; $2,432.52 for removal and installation of a leaking air valve; and $9,472.23 for repainting of walls and floor after completion of construction.

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Workers pour in the sand at the water treatment plant.
Workers installing filter material Wednesday, March 23, 2022, at Baxter's water treatment plant.
Tim Speier / Brainerd Dispatch

Working to keep the project on schedule March 24, Baxter’s Streets and Utilities Supervisor Brian Berent told his crew if everything goes as planned, they would all retire before experiencing a water plant rebuild again.

Berent said the filter system going into the plant is a more traditional system that will be easier to inspect, whereas the system they removed was designed in a way that made periodic inspections nearly impossible.

“The plan is to inspect the system twice a year,” Berent said. “Hopefully with a constant schedule, problems would be caught before it becomes something that would close the plant again.”

Also brought before the council was an amended water treatment plant filter reconstruction and needs assessment project budget from $2,195,360 to $2,225,360.

City council members and Utilities Commission members sit at the council desk
In a special joint meeting Tuesday, March 22, at Baxter City Hall, members of the Baxter City Council and the Utilities Commission address the additional financial needs to make repairs.
Tim Speier / Brainerd Dispatch

The amendment was tabled for a later meeting as the council became aware of additional leaks found hours before the meeting took place Tuesday and both the council and the utilities commission agreed to wait on an updated cost assessment.

Walter also brought up the fact the council originally budgeted training for the utilities department to learn plant operations during the month of March, but training requires an operational plant.

The training was planned for March as winter is the department's slow season, but with training moved to the month of May, the city may need to contract out some of the department's normal duties as they would not be able to handle both, thus raising the total costs again, Walter said.

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Things come up with a project of this magnitude, Walter said. The project is about $30,000 over budget now and is expected to be about $50,000 over budget when completed. Though it sounds like a drastic change, $50,000 over would be a budget increase of about 2.5%.

Knollwood residents gathered at city hall for an assessment hearing regarding assessments for the upcoming Knollwood Improvement Project tentatively planned for 2023.

The Utilities Commission recommended approval of the changes and the council unanimously approved the $27,276 increase and the revised completion dates. The budget amendment was tabled by both the commission and the council.

TIM SPEIER, staff writer, can be reached on Twitter @timmy2thyme , call 218-855-5859 or email tim.speier@brainerddispatch.com .

Related Topics: BAXTER CITY COUNCILBAXTER
Tim Speier joined the Brainerd Dispatch in October 2021, covering Public Safety.
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