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City approves million dollar contract for water reclamation facility

By Eric Marks
Published: Last Updated on

The Reno City Council in February debated a contract with Nelson Electric to replace equipment at the Truckee Meadows Water Reclamation Facility (TMWRF). According to city records, the project consists of “replacement of the 2400-volt Raw Sewage Pump Station Switchgear, LVDC-1A switchboard and transformer, and necessary equipment and appurtenances.”

The upgrade, however, comes with a hefty cost to the city: an overall project expense in excess of $1 million.

The operation cost of TMWRF is shared between the cities of Reno and Sparks, an amount which is based on a split ratio of 68.63 percent for the City of Reno and 31.37 percent for Sparks.

It was not the cost of operation, however, that concerned City Council members. Ward 1 Councilmember Jenny Brekhus was concerned about the construction management services cost component for the replacement of the 2400-volt Raw Sewage Pump Station Switchgear.

Breaking down the costs

The contract that was proposed by Nelson Electric, which came in as “the lowest responsive and responsible bidder,” totaled $1,010,950.

Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus
Council Member Jenny Brekhus.

“It just hit me that the switch gear capital project is a million-dollar project and the construction management is $300,000. That’s 30 percent of the project costs. That seems kind of high to me,” said Brekhus.

Matt Smith, associate engineer for City of Reno, said the complexity of the project warrants the cost of construction management.

“For this particular construction project, it’s very complex. It has the potential to have temporary power installed, so we really want to get this project done, and done right,” said Smith. “The design for this project was also about the same; because of the criticality of this infrastructure I determined it was a fair price for the construction management services.”

Brekhus’ concerns for the project also scrutinized whether the city had received an adequate number of bids from enough contractors. Her concern again focused on the construction management services.

Questioning Smith, she asked, “$600,000 in design and construction management services for a million-dollar project? Did you think about getting another bid? Did you go down the professional service list and think about getting someone else?”

Brekhus specifically mentioned the infrastructure firm AECOM as a contractor option.

Smith repeated to the council that the project cost, in his estimation, was within reason. He also implied a potential conflict with AECOM, the design engineer who “did the sub-station project, which is related directly to this project.”

Robbie Nelson, owner of Nelson Electric, further explained the construction management costs to This is Reno.

“It’s a nice size job. But all the water treatment type work takes considerably longer than a normal job. It’s all rigid pipe. It is a lot more technical [with] all the different requirements because of all the corrosive environments,” he said.

“It’s an industrial job compared to a commercial type job. It’s higher quality of materials that last a lot longer.”

Nelson also explained that the profit margin for the contract was within normal parameters, and that they were, “pretty much the same: it’s just fewer guys, longer timeframe.”

Critical to the community

A City of Reno staff report noted that the upgrade is essential to “maintain a reliable and redundant power supply to crucial TMWRF process facilities.”

The City of Sparks agreed.

“TMWRF is critical to the community, which is why maintaining and expanding is so important,” said City of Sparks Public Information Officer Julie Duewel. “450,000 people living in the Truckee Meadows create 36 million gallons of wastewater every day; 31 million gallons comes to TMWRF. This water must be cleaned to very high standards set forth by the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection prior to being returned to the Truckee River for either downstream water users or to Pyramid Lake.”

“Lead times for some equipment to reach the plant can sometimes take up to six months. Thus, a proactive approach to maintaining the reliability of our treatment processes provides the most protection to the public as well as the Truckee River,” Duewel added.

She also was adamant about the importance of maintaining a functioning and updated facility, one processing the raw sewage of two cities daily through their sanitary sewer collection systems.

Truckee Meadows Water Reclamation Facility
Truckee Meadows Water Reclamation Facility. Image: Eric Marks

Upkeep of the facility and collection systems, which includes over 2,200 miles of connected pipe, is crucial to environmental safety and public health. After treatment, Duewel said, the plant effluent is returned to Steamboat Creek approximately 100 yards upstream of the confluence with the Truckee River.

Even though Brekhus’ motion of approval was passed unanimously and endorsed by Director of Public Works John Flansberg, cost awareness was obviously a distinguished matter for the council member.

“It’s a big fund, and it has a lot of work and demands on it,” Brekhus said. She also informed city engineers that she was asking tough questions “because the sewer fund and rates hit every single household.”

The questions and concerns were both well-received and endorsed by city engineering officials and contractors, however.

Demands by the increasing population and expanding infrastructure are increasing for Reno and Sparks. Along with the need to update and modernize existing public works facilities, joint shared operation costs at the TMWRF are one way the cities are working together to assist each other with the rapidly increasing population.

This cooperation is key to success for many, including Reno native Robbie Nelson who summed up his perspective: “It’s pretty awesome to see the growth that Reno and Sparks has gone through. It’s just a huge transformation, but it’s good.”

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