Libby City Council briefed about water leakages

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Mike Fraser of Fraser Management and Consulting addresses the Libby City Council at City Hall on Tuesday. (Rima Austin/The Western News)

A special public hearing was conducted in front of the Libby City Council Monday concerning the Montana Department of Commerce Community Development Block Grant-Public Facilities program.

According to Mike Fraser of Fraser Management and Consulting — whose firm is on retainer for the city of Libby to oversee the public facilities grant — the current water system is losing about 60 percent of the treated water to leakage.

Repairing and updating the water system has been estimated to cost approximately $1.5 million, Fraser said. However, through the use of grant funds, the city will not have to raise water rates to complete the project.

“The project will have no impact on user water rates. It will mitigate the risk of health and safety, improve water pressure, improve fire flows, secure water transmission lines from vandalism and damage, remove water lines from the Groundwater Contamination Area, lessen the possibility of breaks and hopefully decrease the cost of maintaining the system,” said Fraser.

Frasier spoke about a 2018 preliminary engineering report amendment that evaluated water supply, raw water screening, treatment, storage, pumping stations and distribution system condition and alternatives.

“The city of Libby completed a preliminary engineering report in the spring that evaluated the water supply system,” said Fraser. “That coupled with a wastewater preliminary engineering report, a needs-assessment hearing in December, and an update to the capital improvements plan, led the council to consider a community development block grant application to find critical issues within the water system.”

A capital improvement plan is a short-range plan, usually four-to-ten years, which identifies capital projects and equipment purchases, provides a planning schedule and identifies options for financing the plan. Other documents concerning Libby’s wastewater management were taken into consideration as well, including the Lincoln County Growth Policy, Lincoln County Comprehensive Development Plan and emergency planning.

The preliminary engineering report identified numerous deficiencies in the wastewater treatment operations, Fraser said. For every 10 gallons coming out of the water treatment plant into the city from the pressure reducing station, six gallons are lost and only four gallons are being billed.

He went on to say he found undersized mains in his research as well as low pressure in some of the lines.

“The main coming down the hill is exposed, and there is a 10 inch main along Highway 2 that has an extensive history of leakage,” said Fraser. “The line that is exposed is vulnerable to damage. If that line were damaged the entire city would be out of water.”

Fraser’s report estimated the cost for the repair project would be approximately $1.5 million. The city of Libby has applied for several grants that could potentially pay for the endeavor. Those grants include the Montana Treasure State Endowment Fund for $750,000, Montana Renewable Resource Grant and Loan Fund for $125,000, Montana Community Development Block Grant for $450,000, and the City of Libby Commitment of Funds the from International Paper Settlement for $190,000.

The city was chosen for the Treasure State Endowment grant for $750,000 in November. Libby made the top of the list of funded projects for that grant.

“The Community Development Block Grant program helps local governments fund construction projects that have a primary benefit to low and moderate income,” said Fraser. “Those are individuals earning less than 80 percent of the area median income. Libby has a high percentage of low to moderate income people so this project would be directly benefiting them.”

The Block Grant requires a 25 percent match and Fraser reminded the council that the funds from the Treasure State Endowment Fund are eligible to use as the match funds for the Block Grant, as well as the $190,000 the city is providing. He stated the application cycle for the grants opens Friday, Feb. 15 and closes Friday, March 15.

Fraser the city still needs residents to fill out public needs assessment surveys, which he handed out before the presentation. Surveys can be obtained at Libby City Hall, or online by going to cityoflibby.com and clicking the link on the homepage under “Needs Assessment Survey.”

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