Price Tag Blue Ridge Pipeline: $33 Million

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The Blue Ridge pipeline will cost a little more than Payson hoped, but less than many feared, according to the first detailed cost estimates.

Payson has already spent $5 million on the pipe that will run from the Blue Ridge Reservoir to Payson, mostly on repairs to the existing pipe atop the Rim and preliminary engineering for the remaining 12.5 miles still to complete.

All told, the town will have to spend about $28 million to finish the pipeline, which includes a $7 million water treatment plant, water department head Buzz Walker told the town council last week.

The meeting featured several other major developments on the water front, including approval of a $500,000 project to upgrade water mains and install fire hydrants for an older subdivision near the airport, and details of the annual water report.

Residents of the Payson Airpark Subdivision have already formed an improvement district to cover the cost of connecting the neighborhood to the Northern Gila County Sanitary District’s sewage treatment plant. Payson decided to piggy back on that project to upgrade small water lines originally installed in the 1950s. Those small water mains couldn’t handle enough pressure to accommodate fire hydrants.

The $500,000 came from the proceeds of the recent big hike in water rates, intended to begin replacing many aging water mains. Currently, undersized water mains mean about 10 percent of the town’s neighborhoods have no fire hydrants.

The bids on the water system work came in $250,000 below estimate, a 33 percent savings that reflects the near desperation for work on the part of many contractors.

But the big water news of the evening centered on the Blue Ridge pipeline and the now-firm cost estimates.

Several years ago, the town set the total cost of the Blue Ridge project at $30 million, although town officials have been using a $40-million figure in recent public statements.

The detailed cost estimates based on preliminary engineering plans put the cost of the pipeline at $33 million.

The town has already spent about $5 million in water impact fees on the project, with about $3 million left in the bank. In addition, the town landed a $10.5-million federal stimulus grant for the project, about half of it as a grant and half as a low-interest loan.

In addition, the town hopes to eventually apply for additional low-cost federal grants and loans to cover a big chunk of the remaining price.

If the town can’t get grants and construction remains so dead that no more water impact fees pour in, Payson may have to pay off the eventual bonds with money collected from current water users. So far the water rate increases during the past two years have helped cover rising operating costs and the cost of upgrading aging water mains.

The council also accepted Walker’s recommendation that the water conservation level remain at its lowest setting, since residents in the past 12 months used an average of only 79 gallons per day. That’s only about 60 percent of the water that flowed into the water table as a result of on-again, off-again rainfall that ultimately delivered 19 inches — compared to the long-term average of 22 inches.

The 79-gallons-per-day average in Payson compares to 366 gallons per day in Phoenix. However, the economic downturn and Payson’s large number of mostly vacant, second homes also contributes to the low average.

The detailed engineering estimates for the Blue Ridge project show it will cost $13 million to install the water pipeline along Houston Mesa Road between Washington Park and Mesa del Caballo. The budget also includes $1 million for fencing and site preparation. The budget includes $4.2 million to connect the Blue Ridge pipeline to the town’s existing water lines and make it so that 5-10 of the town’s existing wells can actually inject Blue Ridge water back into the water table when it’s not needed.

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