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Janesville City Council to discuss water tower

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GINA R. HEINE
August 7, 2009
— A new water tower on Janesville's northeast side could be put out for bid after Monday's city council meeting.

To remain in line for federal stimulus money, Utility Director Dan Lynch is recommending the council allow city staff to seek bids for construction of the water tower and related infrastructure.


City Manager Eric Levitt, however, is more cautious.


"I think it could be held off for awhile," he said in an interview.


Before making his recommendation, Levitt said he considered:


-- Lynch is concerned that without a new tower, interruptions in service would continue or get worse. That area of the city is fed by only one pipe, and the tower would provide redundancy and elevation for pressure, Levitt said.


-- Public safety. If the city has a severe main break and loss of pressure, fire protection could be compromised.


-- Cost to residents. The city has submitted a request to the state for a separate, 14.75 percent utility rate increase after the loss of GM's water sales and increased expenses. The state is reviewing the request, Levitt said.


"Based on all those factors, I'm not convinced that right now would be the time to move forward with this project," he said.


In a memo to the city council, he recommends the council "proceed with caution on this project or defer the project until we receive further information from (the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources) on whether we are eligible to receive funds."


Stimulus money could provide a grant of up to $2.5 million for the estimated $7 million project. If the city received a $2 million grant, the average residential customer's water rates would increase about 7 percent, or $3.21 per quarter. Without stimulus money, water rates would increase by 9 percent, or $4.13 per quarter.


Lynch wrote in the memo that starting the bidding process will help keep the project eligible for funds, if they become available.


"The WDNR will award available funds to projects which are the most ready to proceed," he wrote. "Obtaining bids does not obligate the city to award contracts, and if the WDNR funding does not materialize, the city can reject all bids."


The DNR has proposed funding for 46 other projects around the state, but some of those might drop off the list or might not need as much money as expected, leaving an opening for Janesville, which is No. 48 on the list, according to the memo.


To remain eligible for funding, construction contracts must be bid and ready to proceed on or before Oct. 1, the memo states.


Local environmentalist Julie Backenkeller still is questioning the need for the tower and why the city won't disclose the location.


"Why is it a secret?" she said.


The city is looking at multiple locations for the tower but is not releasing them because of negotiations, Levitt said.


Backenkeller also worries that a tower on the northeast side of town would encourage the city to expand into the fertile farmland, she said.



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