By Ross Markman
The sounds of pumping water and grinding drills echo throughout. Massive white pipes are stacked in neat piles, while beams of light-colored wood and bars of steels are scattered on the dirt- and water-covered floors. The smell is an almost musty one.
This is Havre's new water treatment plant on First Street, a $6.7 million project plus $1.5 million for engineering and testing which initially was planned to be completed by last October. Work began on the new water plant in May of 2000.
An extension was granted in October to Williams Brothers Construction, the project's contractor, costing the city about $200,000 for additional engineering, and moving the completion date to July 31, 2002.
The plant, some say, may not be ready by then.
"It won't be ready by the 31st of July. That was the anticipated drop-dead date on the second agreement," Havre Mayor Bob Rice said at a City Council meeting earlier this week.
"We have no idea what the cost overruns are. We have no idea what Williams Brothers' plans are," he added. "Basically, we're at their mercy now."
John Williams, president of the Billings-based construction firm, said if the work goes past the July deadline, it won't be by much.
"After the big rain storm, the water quality was diminished somewhat, so it's delayed some of the start-up and conversion parts of the plant," Williams said.
"As of right now, I don't know if that's going to impact the completion or not," he added. "If it does, it would a minor impact."
The new plant will expand the city's water storage capability from 4 million gallons to 6 million gallons. The project includes the installation of two additional sets of water filters, updating some existing equipment and moving several water basins.
The plant, even with Havre's water restrictions, now pumps 3 million gallons a day. More restrictions will be in place next week from 10 a.m. Tuesday until 8 p.m. Thursday, Havre public works director Dave Peterson said. During those days, residents can't water outdoors.
The restrictions, Peterson said, will allow the water plant to backwash its two filters about 10 times per filter. Doing that, he said, takes the plant's entire water supply.
Peterson, like Rice, is doubtful that Williams Brothers will finish by the end of the month. If they don't, he said, the company will be charged a $2,000-a-day penalty.
"We don't feel that they're going to make that deadline. We feel we've been more than fair to them and given them a substantial amount of time," Peterson said.
"It's moving along. There's some stuff that needs to be done, no doubt," he added. "There's a lot of work left."
Jeff Jensen, the plant's superintendent, agreed.
"It's a mess. I can't stand it anymore," Jensen said today, ducking under construction material. "Usually this place is spotless."
A water plant employee for 13 years and in his third year as superintendent, Jensen said the new plant will not only produce 50 percent more water, it will also do much of the work.
The old plant, built in 1950, is almost entirely manual. Computers, Jensen said, are only used to check water temperature and levels, and to switch pumps on and off. Everything else is done by hand.
"With the new plant, we can run this whole thing from the computer sitting in this office," Jensen said.
"It will change chemical feeds based on water quality. It will backwash filters automatically. It will basically run itself," he said.
Much of the electrical automation work has yet to be finished, Jensen said. The plant is also awaiting the installation of its newest feature a backup generator. If the power went out at the old facility, Jensen said, Havre homes had no water. The new generator, he said, can run the entire facility.
As for when the work will be done, Jensen was unsure. Asked if it'll be ready by the end of July, he shook his head from left to right.
"No, I don't think so," he said.
Barry Curtis, Williams Brothers project manager, said otherwise. The new plant could be up and running on time, he said, depending on the quality of water flowing in from the Milk River.
"We're trying. They can't make enough clean water to do the testing, because the river's so dirty," he said. "Hopefully we'll be real close by the end of this month. We're not planning to go past (the deadline)."
Rice isn't as optimistic.
"This thing went south before I got here. It was supposed to be done last year. It looks to me like they just got behind the eight ball," the mayor said today.
"We're looking at quite a bit of time," he added. "I'm looking at probably September or October by the latest."