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Marinette Water Facility Selected for State Award

The City of Marinette’s Water and Wastewater Utilities Commission was informed Monday, Feb. 18 that their facility has been selected as the best project in its class for 2013 Engineering Excellence Awards by Wisconsin’s branch of the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC). “It’s a real compliment, it’s really nice,” Dean Freeberg, of Mead & Hunt of Green Bay, designers of the project, told the Commission. “We weren’t allowed to say anything about it until today.”

As a state finalist, the Marinette project will now go on for consideration in the national competition. National winners will be announced in April. Meanwhile, there will be a state award ceremony in March at Koehler. Freeberg promised to fill the Commission in later with more details. He said the ACEC each year recognizes projects in 12 categories, and the Marinette project qualified in the water resources category.

According to the ACEC, location for the new Marinette facility created challenges because of the surrounding residential neighborhood. The project team (from Mead & Hunt) developed a construction staging plan that provided an uninterrupted water supply to the city throughout the 24-month construction “with minimal disruption to the surrounding neighborhood. Even with limitations on available space, the design includes provision for future expansion.”

“Reliability, energy efficiency, overall cost effectiveness and ease of operation were all considered in the design process. The building and treatment equipment were designed for energy efficiency to meet the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act requirements. The facility can now provide the technology, capacity and reliability to meet the city’s needs for the next 30-50 years. Further, less energy and chemicals are now used, contributing to the facility’s sustainability,” according to Wisconsin ACEC’s Winning Projects Gallery. The national organization refers to the EEA competition as “the Academy Awards of the engineering industry,” which honors the year’s most outstanding engineering accomplishments.

Freeberg said at a future meeting he will bring a copy of the prize application Mead & Hunt submitted on behalf of the Marinette project. “It was a good partnership and a lot of work,” Freeberg declared.

Meanwhile, Freeberg reported the current project has lots of details to finish up. Decisions need to be made on warranty issues and some chemical feed problems and what to do about them. “As built” plans are being completed, and necessary copies of that 150-page document will be provided tothe utility.

Equipment is in place to start connection as soon as the ice breaks up, probably in early March, Freeberg said. They are finalizing the list of equipment. A representative of the equipment provider has been in the city since Tuesday and has made great accomplishments familiarizing local staff with operation of the plant, Freeberg reported, adding the operating instruction manuals consist of 10 volumes, each about 2 inches thick.

Moving on to other business, Utilities Commission Chair Paul Gustafson announced he will not appoint a formal “Personnel Manual Review Committee.” He and at least two other commissioners will study reports separately and get together informally before reporting back to the full commission with their comments and recommendations.

There was discussion but no action on a proposed step based pay structure for utility employees. Comments from the commission were that information can be collected from the Green Bay metropolitan area, but that skews results because that is a strong labor market with higher average wages than the rest of the state.

Apparently it is hard to get comparables for Marinette water plant employees because it is the only surface water plant north of Green Bay until Ashland. In general there is a difference between pay and benefits for local government employees and general service employees and Rural Water data also does not seem to apply to this operation, Manager Tim Peterson told the Commission, but national salaries pretty much fall into the same range as those in Marinette. More information will be collected and studied, and the issue will come up again in March or perhaps even later.

After some discussion the Commission postponed action on a request from Cellcom to lease property in a portion of the employee parking lot on Water Street to put up a cellular communications tower. The figure of $8,400 rent per year was discussed, along with conjecture about subleasing and who would collect the money if other entities rent space on the tower, and possible consequences to the utility as a result of wording in regard to liability and possible soil contamination. It is known that a portion of that property has contaminated soil, but Peterson said that is on the other side and will not be disturbed. City Attorney Jonathan Sbar will be asked to look over the proposed lease before the next Commission, at which time they may choose to act on it.

The commission agreed to buy a Backflow add-on module for billing software from Civic Systems. Peterson said the module will help make billing more automated. The firm is willing to accept half payment now and the remainder in the 2014 budget. “They’re a good outfit and they have done good work for us in the past,” Gustafson commented.

A member of the utility office staff said support from Civic Systems has been top notch, and every problem they had was addressed quickly. The program saves them significant amounts of time. Peterson commented the next step is to get all the billing information available to customers on the Internet.

“We’re not doing as good as last year, but we’re doing okay,” (in terms of bills and preliminary financial reports) Peterson told the Commission. He said there have been some problems with broken pipes, most likely because of the tough winter, but the breaks haven’t necessarily been happening in areas where he expected them, Peterson said.

There was a long discussion on a request from a customer for reimbursement of costs of cleaning out a clogged city sewer line. The Commission agreed they need to update the policy adopted in 1971 to handle requests from customers who pay to have clogged sewer laterals cleaned. The 40-year-old policy says they will pay $45 toward the cost of cleaning the sewer line, which comments indicated hardly makes sense in today’s world.

Finally the Commission agreed to pay the current bill, including the $175 charge for having the clogged area televised. Peterson will draw up wording for a new policy stating they will pay the total cost for cleaning clogged sewers provided the problem area is televised and they get a copy of the tape showing the problem was in the city line, not in the lateral connecting to the home. In that case, the property owner will be responsible for the entire bill. The clog apparently was caused by a piece of mortar in the line.

Peterson said staff put in a lot of extra time during construction, and overtime had been an on-going problem even before that, but he wondered if adding personnel to eliminate that would be worth the extra cost of benefits. He said the staff had put in a lot of extra time during construction, but that is coming to an end. “I am confident we’re on the downhill side of overtime now...our employees are getting tired...It’s amazing the amount of work we were able to get done.”

At the end of the meeting the Commission went into closed executive session to consider “confidential personnel/disciplinary matters.”


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