Timeline for Sewer System Upgrades & Water Quality Initiatives

I decided to dedicate a page for a timeline to keep citizens up-to-date on the City’s progress in fully Updating & Rehabilitating our Sewer System and clean water initiatives. This timeline demonstrates the focus and perseverance of having a big goal. One agenda. And never losing focus despite the many roadblocks, political distractions (which I will not include in this timeline) and lack of Council support. My administration cannot do it alone. It took a national article for Council (and citizens alike) to match the same concern we have been communicating since Nov 2016. Citizens now have an opportunity to support these objectives, hold decision-makers accountable and in making sure it moves forward with the same sense of urgency my administration has had since the beginning.

It took a national article to wake some folks up.  However, it’s important to know the facts about what is actually being accomplished.

11/7/2016 Term started and the long process of financially separating the Utility Department & City to determine the fiscal health of each independently began.  Utility infrastructure is expensive and there were no funds available to move forward.  The state of our financials was completely inaccurate.
11/14/2016 November 14, 2016 City Council Work Session Advised Council a Mayor should not be paid  two separate paychecks – one for mayor (around $30k) and one as Superintendent of Utilities (around $60k).   Because of our unprecedented growth and utility infrastructure needs, I wanted the second paycheck historically given to the mayor to go towards hiring a professional Operation Director for Utilities.
11/14/2016 Council Work Session: I added the discussion of a building moratorium while we determine our utility needs. The infrastructure was not keeping up with our growth.
11/28/2016 Council Work Session:  Proposed funding a new position for the Operation Director to plan and implement each utility upgrade: Sewer, Water, Gas and Electric.
12/12/2016 Council Work Session:  I added discussion for the need to move forward NOW for a Sewer Study.  Councilman Burrell questioned the need with a new sewer plant completed in 2012. Advised other upgrades have not taken place.  (sewer lines and lift stations)
Some Time in Dec 2017 Some time in Jan, I reported to Council that almost $6M of Utility profits were being used annually to balance the City budget.  Unless this is fixed, the Utility Dept could never afford the expensive infrastructure upgrades needed and sustain proper long-term  maintenance.  We must make it the City’s priority to become financially self-reliant.
1/5/2017 Finalized first two initial proposal for RESTORE funding (1) $6.2M for a Bayfront Living Shoreline Project which included among other things, green infrastructure, upgrades to drainage infrastructure, storm-water management features. (2)
1/9/2017 January 9, 2017 Council Meeting I added agenda item to negotiate a Sewer Study.  It was tabled by Council. Advising needed more information about the company I chose for professional services.
1/23/2017 Council Work Session. After sending more information about the firm I chose for the Sewer Study, the agenda item was added to the work session to discuss.  I asked Council President Burrell before the meeting if a representative from the company needed to be on hand to answer any additional questions. He responded it was not necessary.  Unfortunately, I was intentionally set up for failure because questions were asked that really had nothing to do with the qualifications of my selection.  Ultimately Council turned this down and decided to choose another firm and I had to start communications all over again with the scope of work.  No sense of urgency. Only delay tactics.
2/1/2017 Started conversation about the long-term lease with Fairhope Marina was coming up soon and the need for the City to take this over.  The fuel dock was very old and not stabilized, my concerns with how the boat yard was was affecting the water quality of Fly Creek and our environment. The sewer
2/23/2017 Council Work Session: I added the need for building moratorium while assessing Sewer upgrade needs.
2/26/2017 Hired a Professional Engineer, Richard Peterson, with 28 years Utility experience for our new Operation Director of Utilities. I had to rush this because of the rumor Council was getting ready to vote on a hiring freeze for two months.
2/27/2017 Council held a special meeting  to vote for a 60-day hiring freeze.  This prevented my ability to hire another Civil Engineer as Public Works Director, Richard Johnson, to manage storm water which is a big contributor to SSOs.  Delayed this hire by 6 months. An unsuccessful, unnecessary tactic that set us back many months.
3/9/2017 March 9, 2017 Council Meeting Finally, Council approves Sewer Study  (Third professional service attempt. Had they approved it when I proposed the need, the study would have already been halfway done)
3/23/2017 Email to Council Utility Needs 3 -23-17 with a detailed summary of for each utility based on initial assessment.  Subsequent meetings with each Councilman to answer questions.
3/XX/2017 Richard Peterson encourages Council to shift their priority of painting the water tower right now in light of the other Utility priorities.  He was not successful after several conversations.  This project ended up taking away substantial time away from the infrastructure upgrades we had been imploring Council needed to be addressed first.
3/27/2017 Council Work Session: Richard Peterson and I discussed budget needs for the long ignored utility infrastructure. Council President Burrell commented he disagrees with the Operations Director doing all upgrades at one time. Question why sewer was priority since the City upgraded new sewer plant in 2012. It is because the second phase of the upgrade which should have started immediately following this never happened! It was totally ignored by every elected official from 2012-2016 and since this was Council President’s second term, he was still ignoring this fact today.
4/xx/2017

 

 

4/24/2017

 

RP’s initial estimate for a 3 Year Capital Spending Plan for each utility based on early estimates (before the sewer study was completed).  This was presented in detail with in individual meetings with each councilman where Richard expressed the urgency of getting started now. That he considered all HIGH priority needs due to long-term neglect and the unpredictable reliability in the very near future.  . Each councilman treated the overview as if we were blowing things out of proportion.  The price was too high (which later increased more) and did not believe it all needed to be done at once.

Council Work Session & Exec Session: Discussed concerns about the current condition of our city-owned marina and current lease.  We discussed fuel dock location to the water and its failing dock, the condition of the boat yard, and I advised the need for the City to not lease this asset out anymore. It needed to be managed by the City in order to create a clean marina (improve the health of Fly Creek) No one on council was for this.

5/25/2017   Email to Council 5-25-17 Initial estimates cost for Sewer priorities and concern with Council’s decision to lower spending limits to historical lows. Another successful initiative of council’s which negatively effected (and still does) our ability to take care of day to day business in all the ways you can imagine. 
6/12/2017 Council Agenda: Request to approve pursuing a grant to help manage storm water through GOMA Gulf of Mexico Alliance.  Approval of another of our initiatives  for a Storm Water Outfall Study.
7/24/2017 Council Work Session: Discussion of Utility budget including staffing needs and capital projects for upgrading. We have not gone over the extensive work ahead for four months.
8/27/2017 Reported the summary of the sewer study with citizens and council. Since the inception of the sewer study plan, we’ve been working faithfully to come up with the best, most efficient solutions to our aging sewer system.
9/25/2017 I announced the City was awarded for the $45k grant from Gulf of Mexico Alliance to conduct a storm-water study and recommendation for storm-water management plan for Tatumville gully (our most sensitive watershed).

RP prepares a 5 YEAR CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT PLAN to replace the 3-year plan which was estimated before the Sewer Study was completed

9/27/2017 Emailed Council that I had entered three additional proposals concerning sewer infrastructure projects for RESTORE fund consideration totaling $41,000,000 for Upgrade & Rehabilitation of our Sewer System. I received no response or support for this effort. In fact, in subsequent work session discussions, Councilman Burrell questioned my RESTORE fund projects and how I determined these as priorities.
Three Sewer System RESTORE proposals totaling $41M overview
11/27/2017 Purchased camera system for sewer lines in order to address the most critical needs first.
12/xx/2017 Council pushes to hire Mobile Baykeeper for water testing against my recommendation to work towards the overall fix. Sampling near our shorelines to report on what we already know and cannot possibly define through this sampling is counterproductive.  I have to assume the optics of doing this is strictly political because we have already defined what the City must do to address our role as a City and Utility.
1/22/2018 Council approved 2018 budget (4.5 months late) Removed all Utility infrastructure upgrades and sewer rehabilitation needs.  Also de-funded Assistant Superintendent for Water/Sewer to this day is a mystery. This has put more work on Richard Peterson who should be focusing on the future and upgrades but having to spend most of his time putting out fires every day.
2/15/2018 MUST READ Communication Overview from RP 2-15-18 Richard Peterson, once again, went over Utility infrastructure needs.  Our frustration with Council’s removing the utility capital improvements and disbelief on the insistence of additional information over and above the Sewer Study. 
2/19/2018 My blog post of all Council communication provided to them when they accused my administration of not providing enough information!  11 months of diligent efforts on our part which does not include the MANY one-on-one meetings with each councilman.
2/26/2018 Council Work Session: Richard Peterson went over the Sewer Infrastructure Improvement Plan – immediate needs.  It has become an exhausting, “Groundhogs Day” repeat with the same conversation.
2/27/2018 Reached out and met with Governor Ivy in Montgomery to discuss the need to use RESTORE funds to comprehensively address the health of Mobile Bay.
3/8/2018 Announced that two of the three Proposed Sewer projects were approved for RESTORE funds!  (1)  Fairhope Sewer Rehabilitation Phase I: a five-year project, $10,000,000.  (2) The Eastern Shore Mobile Bay Protection Plan to eliminate sanitary sewer overflows, protection for stormwater runoff and improve the overall health of Mobile Bay for the entire Eastern Shore, $1,000,000. 

The City of Fairhope secured over $18,000,000 for RESTORE fund projects

4/9/2018 Richard Peterson discussed with Council the need for a SCADA & Engineering Dept within Utilities for the technical skills needed for significant improvements ahead.  There is not a successful Utility dept in the Country that does not have this experience in-house to take care of the most urgent needs in an order of priority.  Council opposed (except for Councilman Conyers).
4/13/2018 Post about my efforts to obtain alternate funding our most urgent needs for Sewer rehab since Council refused to include these projects in the budget.   The continued delays and lack of urgency has taken its toll on my administration. Keeping moral up has become difficult and we start losing valuable employees.
4/20/2018 The installation of our NOAA-funded  storm water medallion.  This kicked off the City’s awareness campaign to protect Mobile Bay by KEEPING ONLY RAIN IN THE DRAINS.
5/15/2018 Council Agenda to approve fixing an outfall leak Richard Peterson discovered after a citizen complaint.  He was advised by a citizen that this complaint had been ignored for many years.
6/1/2018 2019 budget was presented, once again, including all infrastructure needs. Continue the conversation of the need for in-house technical support experience. A three year plan was developed before the Capacity study was completed (which prompted a revised 5 year capital spending plan later in this timeline).
6/11/2018 Council Agenda: added agenda item for approval  to execute contracts for Church Street, Bayou Drive, Fairwood Blvd and Fairhope Ave sewer transmission systems. This first step was included in the 2018 budget. We were trying to figure out different ways to push initial steps forward by introducing one project at a time.
8/13/2018 Council Meeting: approval for Fels Ave Lift Station rehabilitation.
9/10/2018 Work Session:  Proposed the 2019 Utility budget which included the 5-year expenditure outlay for each utility need for the third time for Council’s consideration.
9/19/2018 Updated a detail blog post for 2019 budget.  Advised the importance of Council passing the budget when the fiscal year begins which is Oct 1st of each year.  
10/3/2018 Reported to Council the fact that the number of Full-time employees in Water & Sewer Departments had not increased at all with our drastic growth.  The same level of labor has been in place since 2012 leaving this dept in a critical reactionary mode.  There has been simply no support to hire in the needs to be proactive.  We must hire more help.  Councilman Burrell & Brown argue we should not increase government.  (this is not government, it’s a fee-based utility)
10/13/2018 Reached out to Henk Ovink, Netherlands Special Envoy for International Water Affairs, after seeing his interview on 60 Minutes.  Set up a conference call with him and our Directors to go over Fairhope’s concerns as the fastest going City in the state, The rainiest City in the Country as a suburb of Mobile, critical storm water issues which contribute to SSOs into Mobile Bay and the opportunity we have with forthcoming RESTORE funds. We want to use the “Rebuild by Design” initiative to address the problems to find innovative solutions.    
60 Minute Interview with Henk Ovink
10/18/2018 Conference call with Henk Ovink and Directors. Vision for Innovative Communities by Design begins. This will be how we model all RESTORE fund projects.
10/22/2018 Finally, Utility budget is approved WITH infrastructure upgrades intact.
12/20/2018 RP had been discussing the need for a cost of service study for a year and council reluctantly approves the cost for this study which is a critical component of planning future capital expenditures & budgeting for the 5-year plan.
State of the City. and reported
Showed video from the Tatumville Study (our most sensitive watershed) and the importance of making sure we protect the health of our gullies to improve the health of Mobile Bay and other non-renewable resources.
2/25/2019 Proposal for Side Stream Storage presented by Operation Director to Council as part of the overall 5-year plan.  We go out for bid on Twin Beech side-stream storage week of Aug 5th.  Feb 2019  Design of Fels Lift Station began.  Designing these jobs is extremely complex. We have one time to get it right; if we get it wrong, the cost in time and money would be exorbitant.
3/7/2019 Environmental Advisory Board supports RP’s initiatives: Storm-water Sampling Plan, Side-stream wastewater storage and Utility Technical Support Services Resources denied by council 4/2018.
4/11/2019 Proposed and Council approved GeoCon Engineering & Materials Testing, Inc. for Professional Geotechnical Testing and Engineering Services for the Proposed Side Stream Vessels for Quail Creek, Twin Beech Road, Woodlands, and Public Works Site.
5/29/2019 Bid awarded for Fels Av Lift Station rehabilitation
6/1/2019 Paid off City Debt.  Further sustaining the City’s ability to operate without Utility subsidies.  Utility dept can pay most of upgrades without borrowing money.
6/1/2019 Work started in June to replace the Fels Lift Station, which is approximately a 41-year-old station. This main line and lift station must be updated first in order to take care of all other lines feeding it.
 7/23/2019 USA Today Article hits. Everyone starts attaching the City of Fairhope because no one knows about the effort and results from this administration.
7/26/2019 Emailed  Commissioner Chris Blankenship with Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to meet.  Advised Positive change will only happen when  a comprehensive approach with all stakeholders is in place.  This goes far beyond everything the City of Fairhope is committed to do because when our projects are completed, test results in the Bay will likely be unchanged.
7/30/2019 We accepted a bid for construction of the new pump line coming down Fairhope Avenue to Fairwood and Bayou.  This project will go before the City Council for approval on August 12th.  This pump line serves as nucleus of sorts for the entire eastern half of the sewer system. It is essential to eliminate bottlenecks.
8/5/2019 This week the bid for side-stream storage for Twin Beech goes out. We must keep the bid open for three weeks by law. Progress will depend on how quickly City Council approves the selected bid. The earliest City Council could see this is September 8th.  If approved, the timeline for the new tank would be in approximately end of year.
 8/7/2019  Thank you Gabe Tynes with Lagniappe for your article on progress.  I am disappointed in Councilman Brown’s remarks.  This transparent timeline reflects the truth.
Sept 2019 Proposed budget to Council for the same plan we’ve been pushing since 2017.  This budget was adopted 11/13/19.
9/1-10/1/19 Meeting with State officials about what the City of Fairhope is doing, however, without all stakeholders doing their part, the health of Mobile Bay will not improve. So many great organizations have programs and studies.  We have more data available than ever before. The information needs to be sharable bringing innovative thinkers to the table in finding solutions.  Went over the proposal entered in the RESTORE fund portal for Innovative Communities by Design Portal Proposal
 11/1/2019 Received a phone call from Senator Doug Jones advising me that he introduced an amendment to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act which will create a new water quality grant program to increase data sharing across counties and establish a pilot competitive grant program for improving the sharing of water quality data, and for other purposes. More details with a copy of the amendment posted.
11/26/2019 Post about the three projects underway for sewer rehabilitation and upgrades. Many projects underway at the same time. A long time coming but we are well on our way in completing the City of Fairhope’s role as good stewards of our natural resources.

The lift station replacement at the foot of Fels Avenue at South Mobile Street. The large fiberglass tank is the new wet well that will be buried on site and have pumps installed to move wastewater flows from the station to the new transmission main that will be installed on Church Street.

The direction drill rig that will install the 20″ main segment from Fairhope Avenue to Bayou Drive. The entire project will be from Ingelside Street at Fairhope Avenue to the wastewater treatment plant.

A point repair of a sewer main on Nichols Avenue that will repair a separated sewer main where roots can penetrate the main, causing clogs in the sewer main and where groundwater can enter the sewer system. These issues will be corrected to reduce the potential for sewer overflows in the area.

I will update you on progress and add any items to the timeline I may have overlooked because this has been a daily focus.

Sincerely,

Mayor Karin Wilson

 

More about Mayor Karin Wilson

6 thoughts on “Timeline for Sewer System Upgrades & Water Quality Initiatives

  1. Bob Douwsma

    Keep their feet to the fire Mayor !! Thanks for your being proactive in the care of our City. We have your back !!

    Reply

  2. Jo Ann Glasscock

    Thank you for posting this information! You have worked
    tirelessly to resolve this problem. I appreciate you and your staff’s
    efforts. Too bad you have not received the support needed to
    expedite a solution.

    Reply

  3. Lisa LaTourette

    Thank you for this outline of good information! Thank you for putting infrastructure before development!

    Reply

  4. Robert Bellamy

    I would love to hear both sides. After being here for 14 years this city is the good ol boy club and any time there is change. I can not tell if you are just trying to get in your people and they are fighting you because of it or you’re the outsider and they want you out. I just hope you see and spent the money the government takes wisely. I am not a big fan of how we have been received here but such is life. good luck and thank you for posting. good day

    Reply

  5. Steve MacMillan

    Mayor: It would seem that the comment “good old boys” is right on! Is it possible to have them replaced or fired? Please know that we very much appreciate your tireless efforts to make Fairhope the premier place to live. (That is why I have been pushing the effort to have a parking garage built at Thomas Hospital ( even though I’m too old to use it when completed). Please don’t let “the old boy nerwork” and like thinking individuals get you down. Your efforts (and R.P.’s) are very much appreciated! Thank you!

    Reply

  6. Steve MacMillan

    Mayor: We believe in you and feel that your efforts could be so much better if the “ good old boys network was gone. What might make that happen? They’re acting like our U.S. congress just protecting their cushy jobs, instead of being representatives of the people whose taxes pay them!

    Reply

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