Barr Engineering looking at Blaine water system

Staff Writer
I cover the cities of Andover, Blaine and Ramsey. I have worked at ABC Newspapers since August 2007.

The Blaine City Council hired Barr Engineering to work on its water system’s comprehensive plan and audit the system to see what improvements could be needed.

Barr Engineering since May 2013 has led the city’s efforts in planning for adding four new wells and a new water treatment plant in northeast Blaine. At that time, Blaine needed to have an extensive study done of its water aquifer before the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources would approve permits to drill the new wells.

After receiving DNR approval, the council in June 2016 approved bids for the constructions of four new wells, which would give Blaine 21 wells. Most of these wells are used in the warmer months when water demand is higher for irrigation.

In September 2016, Barr Engineering was chosen by the council to complete a feasibility study for a new water treatment plant that the city has tentatively budgeted $22.3 million for. City Engineer Jean Keely said the study will determine what type of system should be used to treat the water in this new plant, and that would have a big impact on the construction costs. She told the council in September that the study would take around nine months to complete, and the city’s fourth water treatment plant would not be operational until 2019 at the earliest.

The Metropolitan Council requires cities to update their comprehensive plans every decade. The comprehensive plan shows where the city wants its homes, shops and parks to be, housing density goals, plans for roads, sewer and water infrastructure and much more.

Keely said the city has not updated its water system comprehensive plan since 2002, and much has changed since then. Blaine had no water treatment plants in the summer of 2005. Numerous resident complaints about poor water quality due to manganese and iron led the city to construct its first water treatment plant in 2005, and the city added two additional plants in the next two years. The city has also constructed another water tower since the last comprehensive plan update.

Keely noted that Barr Engineering’s $54,600 quote was the highest of the four companies that submitted bids. Progressive Consulting Engineers had the lowest bid at $28,030, WSB & Associates bid $33,600, and SEH bid $52,000.

But considering the deep knowledge of Blaine’s water system and history of successfully working to obtain regulatory approvals for past projects, Keely said city staff believe this company would be the best choice to work on updating the city’s water comprehensive plan.

Keely said Blaine would have done this work even without the two water incidents in which residents and businesses lost water on Jan. 8 and lost water pressure on Feb. 12.

“This was in the works prior to water issues happening in the city? This was going to happen regardless?” Council Member Julie Jeppson asked.

Keely replied, “That’s correct. This is in preparation for our 2040 comprehensive plan, so it’s one of the pieces of that overall city plan.”

Considering the scope of projects and its history of working with the city, Mayor Tom Ryan also believes Barr Engineering is best-suited to update the comprehensive plan.

“Whenever you get to the point of drilling four wells and adding a $20 million water treatment plant, the low bid doesn’t mean much to me,” Ryan said before voting with the rest of the council to approve this $54,600 for Barr Engineering.

But the two water incidents have led the city to hire Barr Engineering to complete an audit of the city’s SCADA system that operates the water system. Public Services Manager Robert Therres said Barr Engineering estimated this review will cost between $25,000 and $30,000. Barr Engineering’s preliminary schedule showed that it could deliver draft recommendations to the city by April 7 and there would be a council workshop prior to final recommendations being acted on.

Jeppson asked if there were any negatives with using the same company for these two projects.

“Is there any conflict of interest in just the one company doing it all, or should there be better checks and balances with different companies coming in, or like what you said, have the one company make it more streamlined?” Jeppson asked Therres.

Therres said, “We felt the one company makes it more streamlined.” But he added that Barr Engineering would be working with In Control, a Blaine company that provides the SCADA software, so one company would not be doing all the analyzing.

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  • NateI

    So basically Barr is Blaine’s daddy?