Motorists sped up and down Elk Valley Road recently, oblivious to the five men in orange vests and hard hats a few yards away. Oblivious also to the fact that tax dollars were being saved. In fact, the city has recently embarked on two major public works projects in do-it-yourself fashion after bids from outside companies came in unexpectedly high.
One man sat behind the controls of a crane. Two others attached cables to a huge concrete ring while another duo fixed a sealant around a 9-foot-wide well. Rushing water and the musty scent of sewage filled the air.
As Crescent City's summer gives way to winter, public works employees were hard at work making sure the lift station near Elk Valley Rancheria can handle wet weather loads. Employees were retrofitting new pieces to the 9-foot-wide manhole, according to Utilities Director Eric Wier. A corresponding 9-foot concrete disc waited to be affixed to the top.
Once the manhole is retrofitted, public works employees will install submersible pumps that can be controlled from above ground. According to Wier, until now the lift station's pumps could only be controlled from 20 feet below ground. The work is expected to be finished by Nov. 9.
"All of the controls instead of being 20 feet below the ground will be above in the Elk Valley pump station building," Wier said. "The Elk Valley lift station (had not been) sized sufficiently enough to keep up with winter flows."
The city, county and the Crescent City Harbor District had agreed to make improvements to the lift station on Elk Valley Road and to a lift station in the harbor in December 2010, Wier said. The harbor had plans to turn a treatment plant for a seafood processor into a lift station that would be city-run.
The city solicited bids for the project in the spring of 2011. But because the bids came back too high, the city voted to reject the bids. At that point it was too late to begin construction before winter set in.
According to Wier, when the city sent out a request for proposals for the project, only one bid came back at $650,000. The engineer's estimate was $250,000.
"We as a city rejected the bid," he said. "We can do the project more efficiently and affordably by using our own forces."
Completing the lift station project in-house not only allowed the city to save a substantial amount of money it also saved a potential rate increase to city and county residents, said City Manager Eugene Palazzo.
"If we couldn't do it in-house and we had to pay that amount of money, it would just mean our customers are going to see higher rates in their sewer and water (bills) because of those costs," he said. "We are very fortunate to have the talent on our staff that we can get it done in-house."
Palazzo added that officials hadn't expected to do the lift station project in-house.
"When that comes up we just shift our priorities and these projects happen," he said. "Maybe it takes us a little longer to get other things done, but it is a huge benefit to the community."
A 12-inch sewer main accommodated the harbor's seafood treatment plant and had enough capacity to accept sewage from the Elk Valley lift station as well. But the county needed to upgrade the pumps at the Elk Valley lift station so it could purchase capacity within the sewer main. The harbor used that funding to upgrade the harbor lift station, allowing the city to take it over, Wier said.
"By them buying capacity it allowed the harbor to rehab the treatment plant," Wier said referring to the harbor facility. "Elk Valley can now be upgraded."
The Elk Valley lift station isn't the only project the city has chosen to do in-house rather than accept a bid for more money than the engineer's original estimate. Wier said the city solicited bids to install two new chemical storage tanks for the membrane biological reactor filtration system at its wastewater treatment plant.
The city received one bid for $550,000 and another for $250,000. Wier said city employees believed they could get it done for under $100,000.
"The tanks have been set in place and we're just finishing up the piping," he said.
Other public works projects include replacing the mechanism at the wastewater treatment plant that scrapes solids to a collection point. Wier said that mechanism had been in service since the early 1970s.
Reach Jessica Cejnar at email@example.com.