Powell Butte II reservoir design contract balloons

The Powell Butte II reservoir has more than 3,200 leaks, and $138 million later, is still not operational. (KOIN 6)
The Powell Butte II reservoir has more than 3,200 leaks, and $138 million later, is still not operational. (KOIN 6)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN 6) — It leaks, it’s behind schedule, and the design contract cost 45% more than planned.

The Powell Butte II reservoir in Southeast Portland, which holds 50 million gallons of water, has somewhere close to 3,200 cracks, said Water Bureau administrator David Shaff. The project is sitting at an overall cost of $138 million.

click me diverThe expensive, rigorously planned water treatment and distribution project continues to fail leak tests months after it was scheduled to be in operation.

The tanks take 11-20 days to drain. To manage the damage, divers go into the reservoir to find the cracks, so they can be repaired.

“We’re at 45,000 gallons on the west cell and 15,000 gallons on the east cell,” said Shaff. The cracks have further stalled the project, which faced previous delays. “We are later than we wanted to be,” said Shaff.

The reservoir is still not in service yet, but the city has until 2015 until they must disconnect from the Mt. Tabor reservoir.

Disputes with SSC

City of Portland Water Bureau administrator David Shaff.
City of Portland Water Bureau administrator David Shaff.

Contractor SSC Construction, Inc. and the Water Bureau are engaged in a dispute over the cracks for an as-yet undisclosed sum.

“Concrete cracks,” said Shaff. In SSC’s contract with the city, the company is obligated to fix any cracks in the concrete.

A construction claim between SSC Construction, Inc. and the Water Bureau is pending. The company is asking the Water Bureau for more funds due to more repair costs than anticipated.

Shaff explained the situation this way: “They’re going to say ‘we did more work than we originally bid so you need to pay me more,’ and we’re going to say ‘that might be true, but some of that is your fault so you’re going to have to eat that.’”

“All of it eventually gets all resolved,” he said.He claims the cracks do not pose major structural issues.

Cost increases

A July 1, 2011 Financial Impact Statement shows a 45% increase in cost from the project’s initial price tag.

In an October 16 2012 Financial Impact and Public Involvement statement for council action items, Portland city commissioners passed an amendment to the contract for the project, with the company CH2M Hill, Inc.

Below: see a map of the major cracks

The Design project began with an initial budget of $5.38 million. Then, a contract authorized October 7, 2009, raised the cap to $8,455,246. One October 2012 amendment to the contract tacked on $1,813,015 for “additional engineering services as a result of the land use permit.”

“It’s a really complicated job,” said Shaff. “It seldom looks like what is started off as when you first get the proposal.”

Another amendment added $1,999,673 for “the creation of additional interpretive elements, drawings, aerial photos, engineer of record, special observation and construction support that stem from unexpected permit requirement.” What these permits were for, or why they were not budgeted in is unclear at this time.

The contract, which was not to exceed $8,455,246, increased to $12,267,934. The overall cost of the project, which includes trails, amenities and a caretaker house (part of mitigation requirements for land use) , is an estimated $138 million.

“It’s actually a pretty good deal,” said Shaff.

Chlorine in Johnson’s Creek

Johnson Creek in southeast Portland. (City of Portland)
Johnson Creek in southeast Portland. (City of Portland)

According to the findings of a civil suit, the city was fined $40,800 for discharging chlorine into Johnson Creek, increasing the creek’s chlorinity to levels over the Department of Environmental Quality’s standards. The suits began when a neighbor called the DEQ over concerns the water being released into the creek would cause erosion.

In a notice of civil penalty, dated April 17, 2014, wastewater discharged into Johnson’s Creek from the reservoir increased chlorine levels in the creek to as high as 0.293 mg per litre.

Specifically, the document shows on November 6, 13 and 21 and December 17 2013, the toxicity of wastewater discharged into Johnson’s Creek violated water quality standards set by the Environmental Quality Commission.

It found the magnitude of the violation “major,” according to Oregon Law.

Who to blame?

However, the Portland Water Bureau blames SSC Construction for the mistake that allowed levels of chlorine above DEQ regulations to contaminate a designated salmon habitat, in Johnson’s Creek.

SSC, Inc. conducted regular tests to monitor the chlorine levels, and obtained readings of zero, Shaff said.

“The test equipment they were using wasn’t sensitive enough,” said Shaff. “They made a mistake.”

“Once we figured out we said ‘stop you can’t do that any more,’” said Shaff. He said he does not know how the wastewater mistake happened.

Multiple attempts by KOIN 6 staff to contact SSC for comment went unanswered.

Contracting procedures questioned

Hillsboro Water Department engineering manager Tyler Wubbena, left; the Bill Crandall reservoir in Hillsboro, right (KOIN 6)
Hillsboro Water Department engineering manager Tyler Wubbena, left; the Bill Crandall reservoir in Hillsboro, right (KOIN 6)

The City’s Water Bureau’s process for awarding contractors was last audited in 2001.

That audit, entitled The City’s Consultant Contracting Procedures Need to be Strengthened, recommended changes to contracting procedures, including that “only one consultant is selected for each area of expertise, thus eliminating any opportunity to rotate work.”

An August 2004 Audit found Portland’s water distribution system’s maintenance program needed improvement.

Hillsboro Water Department engineering manager Tyler Wubbena said the recently opened, 10 million gallon Bill Crandall Reservoir in Hillsboro used a different concrete than the Powell Butte II reservoir.

He said he would be worried if one of Hillsboro Water Department’s projects had as many cracks as the Powell Butte II project.

“As an engineer I guess I would,” he said when asked if the cracks in Powell Butte II’s concrete would worry him.

For the price Powell Butte has cost the city, seven Crandall Reservoirs might have been built. Still, work on the reservoir will continue into the summer.

Although water use in Portland is decreasing, prices for ratepayers will rise to foot the $138 million bill.

The reservoir will serve 900,000 homes in the Portland Metro Area, including: Burlington Water District, Tualitin, Tigard, the Lake Grove Water District, the Lorna Water District, the Palatin Hill Water District, the Raleigh Hills Water District, the Rockwood Public Utility District, Valley View Water District and West Slope Water District.

KOIN 6 Web Editor Annie Ellison contributed to this report.

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