Preliminary report for proposed 2021 McGregor Main Street sewer project presented

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Work would include utility upgrades and full street restoration

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

The McGregor City Council and McGregor Municipal Utilities Board, at a joint meeting Feb. 26, approved a preliminary engineering report for the city’s proposed 2021 Main Street sewer project. The work, which could stretch from roughly St. Mary’s Catholic Church all the way to the riverfront, would encompass water and sanitary and storm sewer utility upgrades, as well as a complete street restoration, including new curb and gutter and sidewalks.

“The purpose of the preliminary report is to justify the need for the project and the extent of the project. It’s kind of a regulatory step in order to receive funding,” explained Mark Davy, with Davy Engineering.

The largest area of need is the aging sanitary sewer. Televising as far back as 2013 revealed significant cracks, offset joints and root penetrations to the Main Street segment, causing water infiltration. Inflow is also an issue, with an estimated 50 percent of properties pumping directly into the sanitary sewer. In recent years, said Davy, increased precipitation has exacerbated the problem.

“The river’s been higher,” he acknowledged, “but it’s primarily a ground water issue, and the ground water is now submerging that pipe and everything is going directly in there. Not just that, but it’s clearly going into the basements of residents, and they’re having a lot more problems.”

Infiltration and inflow has increased so dramatically it’s causing sewer backups.

“It overloads the treatment plant and forces the city to bypass a combination of clear water and waste water directly into the Mississippi River at times of high flow,” a practice Davy noted has generated health and sanitation concerns and prompted the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to threaten enforcement action.

Upgrades to the water main are greatly needed too. The number of breaks on the Main Street segment has grown and water leakage trended up from 2014 to 2019, with a significant difference between the amount of water pumped versus the amount of water sold.

Davy said problems seem to start around Front Street, then progress up Main Street.

“And if we’re going to tear up an entire street to replace sanitary sewer,” he said, “we think it would be a mistake to leave 60-, 70-, 80-year-old water main underneath that brand new street.”

The project has been divided into three phases, giving the city options should financing not be available to complete each one. The most important stretch, from a sanitary sewer perspective, is from the church to Main Street’s intersection with A Street. 

“We’ve designated that as phase one—a very significant portion of the project,” stated Davy. “Phase two is going from A Street down to Front Street, past Kwik Star. That’s another priority area. That’s a reverse siphon from the sanitary sewer, and that’s also where we’re having a lot of water main issues.”

The “distant” third phase would tackle from St. Mary’s Catholic Church northwest, to where Seventh and Ann streets meet.

Original cost estimates for the project were around $3 million, but Davy said the total has ballooned to $6.6 million. That’s largely because of the Department of Transportation’s surfacing requirements since Main Street is a state highway.

“Our initial concepts were more of repairing the street and patching a lot of the curb, and leaving as much of the existing street intact as we could,” he explained. “But in discussions with DOT, there are so many laterals out there, and there would be so much patching, there was a great fear we’d tear the entire thing up and then have to repair the street in three years because it was in such lousy condition.”

Of the current $6.6 million estimate, Davy said water upgrades would account for roughly $828,000, while sanitary sewer would be $737,000 and storm sewer $400,000. Street restoration comes in at $4.6 million.

“A street restoration project is really what it is because that’s where most of the cost is,” he added. “That is an edge to edge repair—we’re going from right of way to right of way. Our intent is that the laterals underneath the public are going to be repaired, sidewalks are going to be repaired when we go underneath there and put in new, and curb and gutter is going to be put in new. This isn’t going to be a hodgepodge.”

Davy has proposed several financing alternatives using a combination of grants and loans. Thanks to lobbying efforts by McGregor Mayor Lyle Troester with Sen. Chuck Grassley’s office, all of the options include a $1.5 million reimbursement from the DOT. That will cover the center 22 feet of street surfacing.

Troester, who said staff from Rep. Abby Finkenauer’s office have also agreed to meet, assured those at the meeting he’ll continue fighting for more funding.

“The reason I’m using is that we’re supporting the eastern third of Iowa in two million bushels of grain being hauled through our town and being exported worldwide,” he said. “The cost for the road is tremendous because of [DOT] requirements for the thickness. They put that burden on us, so it’d be nice to have some reimbursement because we’re, in effect, helping the economy of the state of Iowa. I haven’t given up on that.”

Unfortunately, said Davy, each funding option includes a rate increase for all McGregor residents. The average customer currently pays around $50 each month for water and sewer. One option could increase that by as little as an estimated $24 per month while another could double it. 

Some Main Street property owners may also face additional costs to connect a pump with the storm sewer or upgrade water or sewer lines.

Davy said the city will apply for funding this month and select financing options in April. Those results will ultimately determine the scope and cost of the project.

“I want to emphasize this is a preliminary project—everything’s in flux. We may scale this back significantly if we’re not seeing the funding we need,” he stated. “It’s very clear something needs to be done on Main Street. We have a cost-effective, long-term solution here, but now we have to dial in the funding and make sure it’s affordable.”

By late March, Davy Engineering will begin final design work. Half the plans and specifications should be completed by May, and 90 percent by July. At that time, they’ll be submitted to the DNR and DOT for approval. The project will be bid and awarded in January, with construction set to begin in April or May 2021. Work would be substantially completed by November, but final punch list items would likely carry over to May 2022.

Davy said the first of two public meetings on the project will be held this summer. The other will take place right before construction begins. 

“Then, we’ll connect with business owners, especially downtown, and have them meet the contractor who’s going to be there and develop a relationship,” he commented.

Mayor Troester acknowledged such extensive construction will be a “heck of a thing to face.”

“But on the flip side,” he added, “what a wonderful opportunity for McGregor, to have, basically storefront to storefront, all new. And it’s a chance to alleviate pumping from basements into our septic system, which is taxed. It’s something we have to address, and it will hopefully improve all the businesses downtown.”

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