ONE YEAR AGO — Workers use heavy machinery to repair a 30-inch water main at the city’s water filtration plant in this November 2016 file photo. In the background is the new ultraviolet disinfection building. Two chlorine gas spills occurred in that building one year ago, and the city is still waiting for assessments by the manufacturer’s representatives before repairs can be completed. (Sentinel photo by John Clifford)

City awaits assessments on anniversary of UV plant leaks

Published Nov 20, 2017 at 4:00pm

Today marks the anniversary of the second of two consecutive days the city’s ultraviolet water disinfecting system sprung leaks. The system was almost ready to be put into use, but had to be cleaned and repaired. It is still not operational, and the city has had to ask for an extension on the federal deadline to begin.

On Friday, Nov. 18, 2016, the new UV facility at the Water Filtration Plant on Stokes-Lee Center Road started operations and the work went smoothly, Mayor Jacqueline M. Izzo said immediately after the incidents, but the first leak was discovered at about 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19.

Two workers were hospitalized for possible exposure to chlorine, but they were released without any health concerns. There was also no danger to users of the water system, the mayor said last year.

The leaks were caused by a “faulty valve,” according to the city. The city’s Hazardous Materials Team responded to the scene to clean up the spill, which was about 30 pounds of chlorine. The spill was contained entirely within the facility. The system was repaired and the chlorination process resumed, briefly. But then a second leak in the same valve was discovered at about midnight on Sunday, Nov. 20, prompting another response by both the Rome and Utica haz-mat teams. The facility was once again shut down. A little more than 30 pounds of chlorine spilled in the second leak, which was once again contained within the facility. Since the spills, members of the community and the Common Council have repeatedly asked for information from the administration on the clean up costs and costs associated with it such as the city’s contracts with two law firms.

Here are the contractual costs related to the project and those related to the damage:

  • General contractor C.O. Falter Construction of Syracuse, which the city is paying $6,749,440.53. An amendment to its contract added another $33,445.50 to cover the costs of cleaning up the leaks.
  • The electrical contractor is BeKen Contracting Services of Syracuse, which the city paid $930,530.
  • Patrick Heating of Westmoreland is the heating-ventilation-air conditioning contractor, with a $198,480 contract.
  • GHD is the city’s consultant on the project, contracted initially for $218,900. Three amendments brought the contract to $1,477,600. A fourth amendment adds another $60,960 for additional tasks related to the leaks.
  • CDM Smith of East Syracuse is the company hired for up to $20,000 to be an independent third party reviewer of the leak and repairs.
  • Law firm of Frateschi, Schiano and Germano of Syracuse, was hired at an hourly rate of $190 for non-litigation matters and $240 for litigation matters, up to $7,500 in April.
  • Law firm Harris Beach was hired earlier this month at a rate of $335 an hour for partners and $240 an hour for associates and senior counsel. The legislation did not state a maximum expenditure.

The city did get a big hand from the state on the project when it was announced recently that it will get a $3 million grant funded through the Water Infrastructure Improvement Act for part of the ultraviolet facility, which has a total estimated cost of $10,866,000.

Mayor Jacqueline M. Izzo said there’s still parts of the process to be completed. “There are still a number of assessments that are not yet completed by the manufacturer’s representatives. We’re waiting for those.” All cleanup is done but repairs will come after assessments, Izzo said.

On Tuesday, Nov. 28, the plan is to switch over pipes so that all water will move from reservoir to the UV building to the main filtration plant for chlorination and then out to the users.

The council is scheduled to meet with lawyers from the city and the outside counsel at a work session before its next meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 13. City Corporation Counsel Gerard Feeney told the council at a recent meeting, however, that the intention is to conduct that work session in executive session, which is closed to the public, due to information protected by attorney-client privilege will be discussed. There is no litigation related to the incidents at this time.

The federally mandated project was to go online a month before the federal deadline. After the leaks, the city sought and obtained an extension to the end of 2017, but then requested another extension until the end of May 2019, which has also been approved.