Karcher upgrade price tag jumps by $120,000

As Port Orchard city officials found out late last month, the estimate for an upgrade to the Karcher Creek Sewage Treatment Plant required a slight revision.

About $120,000 in revisions, in fact.

The culprit behind the six-figure price jump was primarily a series of valves whose costs far exceeded the wildest estimates of plant general manager Dick Fitzwater. Fitzwater, who compiled the original estimate, believed the plant could operate with cheaper hand-operated valves. As it turns out, the increasingly state-of-the-art plant needs automated valves, at a cost of up to $10,000 apiece.

All of a sudden, the original $69,000 estimate had jumped to more than $190,000.

“I never in my wildest dreams imagined a valve could cost that much,” Fitzwater said. “It was embarrassing.”

Further complicating the problem, when the price of the necessary equipment shot up, the sewage plant’s ability to do the installation work itself disintegrated. Under state law, the plant can only do up to $5,000 of construction-type work in-house. Anything over that needs to be bid out.

Automated equipment, said Fitzwater, requires way more than $5,000 of work to install.

The exact estimate for the work to be bid out has yet to be determined — the sewage plant engineer is still putting together the bid package, Fitzwater said.

The upgrade project is not connected to the major plant overhaul, which will replace existing sewage treatment methods with a cutting-edge membrane system. That project is proceeding as planned.

For the most part, the city is taking the news in stride. There was no outcry at the city council meeting at which the change was announced. Councilman John Clauson, who chairs the water and sewer committee, said the upgrade needs to get done, regardless of price.

The upgrades, he explained, would have made the sewage plant digesters work more efficiently by adding aerators to the digester basins. The planned installation was coordinated to coincide with next month’s routine cleaning of the digesters — work that must be done on a regular schedule.

The cleaning process, Clauson said, is fairly complex. The digesters must be taken off-line and scrubbed by hand. If the plant doesn’t do the installation while the digesters are already off-line, it will have to take them down again at some later date, essentially duplicating the entire process and paying twice for the same actions.

“It’s a fairly expensive process,” Clauson said.

The city does have the money to pay its share of the higher amount — according to the agreement between the city and Karcher Creek Sewer District, which shares use of the plant, Karcher pays 54 percent of all operating costs, including capitol projects.

Clauson said the council will dip into a fund made up of latecomers sewer sign-up fees, which was specifically set up for costs such as these.

Karcher, Fitzwater said, will probably have to pull the extra money out of reserves.

To lessen the blow, Fitzwater said the plant will still try to get the project completed this year. Although the project has likely been delayed for several months by the estimate mix-up, and the plant typically does not like to take any digesters off-line during the higher-use winter months, Fitzwater said he’s ready to take the chance.

The risk, he explained, is potential overflow from an increase in rain infiltration — a phenomenon the districts have been trying to combat through extensive pipe repairs.

“Hopefully our improvements have made it so we can do this in the winter,” Fitzwater said. “Especially is we get another like the last one — I hope, I hope I hope.”

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