From firemen and hospital employees to average citizens, strong support was expressed for a proposed water tower on the upper bench above Lovell during a well-attended public forum Tuesday night.
A few questions were asked, but no opposition to the project was expressed as various aspects of the project were discussed.
Councilman Brian Dickson outlined the $3.5 million project, which would include a 140-foot tall, 400,000-gallon water tank to be located at the rodeo grounds next to McKinley Ave. The project would also include a new pump station, a SCADA telemetry system for water monitoring and new water lines on the hill.
Dickson said the water tower was recommended in a $100,000 study funded by the Wyoming Water Development Commission performed by then DOWL HKM (now DOWL) Engineering.
Lovell has two pressure zones, Dickson explained, but only the lower zone is supplied by water tanks – a 300,000-gallon tank on the hill along Shoshone Avenue and a 1 million-gallon tank to the west, also on the bench. The upper zone relies on the pump station to supply water from the system below, and when the power goes out, water pressure on the hill falls dramatically to around 10 to 15 psi, Dickson said.
The water study demonstrated a need for consistent pressure via an elevated water tank for residents and businesses on the hill and the North Big Horn Hospital/New Horizons Care Center facility, not only for drinking water and sanitation but more importantly for fire flow, Dickson said.
Dickson said the WWDC has awarded Lovell a $2.4 million grant, with a state loan covering the remaining $1.2 million match. Lovell’s demographics allow the town to qualify for 50 percent loan forgiveness, so of that $1.2 million match, $600,000 would be forgiven and of the final $600,000, $400,000 would come from unobligated funds in a construction account built up over the years by phases of the water and sewer project coming in under bid. The final $200,000 would come from unobligated funds in the town water fund meaning that Lovell utility customers would not see any increase in their water bills unless the Shoshone Municipal Pipeline enacts an increase in the future.
“We would take out a $600,000 loan and repay it the next week,” Dickson said. “It would be a short-term loan we would pay off within 30 days. The need is there.”
Mayor Angel Montanez said the purpose of Tuesday’s forum was to get information out to the public about the project and possible options, saying he also wanted to make sure no unexpected expenses would come up.
“The last thing we want to do is go back and add more money to your water bill,” the mayor said. “That’s why we’re asking for public comment.”
“This project will not necessitate a water rate increase,” Dickson emphasized.
Sharon Wagner asked if the construction account would have to be rebuilt, but Dickson and councilman Bruce Wolsey said the account contains unobligated funds from past projects and does not need to be refunded. Wolsey said the account is composed, in essence, of “excess funds,” and councilman Scott Allred said if it weren’t for previous projects, the money “wouldn’t be there anyway,” adding that projects coming in under budget allowed the town to “stash the cash” for a future project.
DOWL project engineer Dayton Alsaker said DOWL debated between a 300,000- and a 400,000-gallon tank but settled on the 400,000-gallon tank to account for firefighting storage and future growth on the hill. He noted that the current pump station is nearing the end of its operational life and current technology will allow for a more efficient station.
Asked by Allred if 400,000 gallons is enough for anticipated growth, Alsaker said it would be plenty of capacity for domestic demand and fire flow, noting, “You’ll never run out.” He noted that, without the tank, it would be extremely difficult to obtain building permits for projects on the hill like the anticipated housing development on the site of the former North Big Horn Hospital that was razed a couple of years ago.
Alsaker said the new lines would put an end to some dead-end lines that exist on the hill, allowing for better water quality, redundancy in supply, better hydraulics and greatly increased fire flow. He said vacant areas on the hill would become more valuable with consistent water flow.
Joy Hill noted that Lovell has a unique opportunity with the project, noting that other towns in the county are facing challenges with projects and “water is always the number one issue.” Hill, the county planner, said the tank will provide an opportunity for growth and is also good for the existing population.
Citizen Jerry Warman asked about insurance rates, and Fire Chief Jim Minchow said Lovell is fortunate to receive an ISO rating of 6, noting that that rating could rise if the upper bench were ever to be evaluated, due to the lack of fire flow.
“We’ve worked hard to upgrade our equipment and get the water and sewer system in place,” Minchow said. “This is a great opportunity so if the power goes down we’ll still have water pressure. Right now, (if the ISO were re-evaluated) we wouldn’t get a 6 rating. Rates could go up by half again or even double.
“This project is, in many ways, a no-brainer. It will give us the water we need for the whole community. The fire district, fire board and the firemen are in favor of it. It’s a win-win situation for the community.”
Fire Capt. Bob Mangus said he’s not sure there’s enough pressure on the hill to operate the department’s deck gun, a high-pressure water gun. He said the department would have to transport a lot of water to the hill, which would make it difficult to fight a large fire. Minchow added that the department likely couldn’t run off two hydrants on the fill, even without a power outage, and the pull from the department’s equipment could collapse lines coming from below, noting that one truck pumps at 1,500 gallons per minute, another at 1,250 gallons per minute.
North Big Horn Hospital CEO Rick Schroeder said the new tank is important from the hospital’s perspective, noting that the hospital district’s emergency preparedness plan requires consistent and strong water pressure.
“It’s really, really important for the safety of our facility,” he said. “It’s a great project at the right price at the right time and for the right reasons.”
Ambulance Director Scott Murphey noted that the one thing that constantly fails in emergency preparedness table-top exercises is water pressure.
“When we run the exercises, over and over again, what fails miserably is water if the power is out,” he said. Noting that a generator has been suggested to keep pumps running, Murphey said the best option is water supplied by gravity flow.
Norma Allen wondered why a public forum was even being held, given the necessity of the project.
“Lives are at stake,” she said. “If it’s so important, you should have just done it. But thanks for inviting us.”
Councilman Allred said there might have been cheaper options, but the 300,000-gallon tank is nearing the end of its lifespan and will need to be replaced in the not too distant future. He also said growth could tax the current system but noted that health and safety are paramount.
As the session neared an end, Mayor Montanez asked if there was anybody in the public not in favor of the plan, and no hands were raised.
“I guess that answered my question,” he said.
By David Peck