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Mayor responds to complaints about water plant, engineers

By Kamiah Mayor Dale Schneider

     I have read several letters to the editor on the failure of the filter at the new water plant. There was never a failure of a filter and the city has been making water for about six weeks.

     The water into the distribution system is still from the old water plant. A month ago at a city council meeting, the city asked TD&H Engineering why the back wash time under normal conditions was as high as 28 hours on filter #2 and only 10 hours on filter #1. (Back wash means cleaning the filters.) It is my understanding that a minimum of 15 hours is acceptable under normal conditions.

     TD&H Engineering agreed there was a problem and said they could do a series of tests. After checking many possible areas where a problem could exist, it was the conclusion that when the original pumps failed, while we were operating filter #1, sand and dirt, etc., got into the clarifier and media prior to entering the filter. With the pumps not operating, we could not backwash and the sand and dirt accumulated in the media.

     Consequently, after a year and a half, it was caked up and hardened and was causing more than normal dirty water to enter the filter, which reduced the run time before we had to backwash the filter. New media was installed last week and filter #1 is operating very well. We will know the run time for backwashing sometime this week.

     When the plant was started up two years ago and we had high turbidity in the river, the pumps were overwhelmed with sand. This was a very serious engineering mistake which ruined the pumps and caused serious problems throughout the system. The engineering on the plant began with Progressive Engineering who sold their company to TD&H Engineering while under construction. When the pumps failed, TD&H was responsible for all the problems as the new owner.

     At this time the frustration level was extremely high for city officials, the engineering company, the contractor and Public Works. We did have a meeting with all the responsible entities and their attorneys to discuss the problem.

     The one decision the city council and TD&H agreed on was to avoid a lawsuit which could tie up the project for years. The decision was made to put our frustrations aside and to work together and get the plant operating. The city council was very adamant that we would not accept a “band-aid” fix and that we wanted the entire system gone through and repaired. TD&H understood their responsibility and hired an engineer out of Coeur d’Alene who had a lot of experience and expertise with the construction and operation of a Roberts filtration system, which Kamiah has.

     Time delays have caused very high frustration. Examples are when the pumps failed, we missed the “fish window,” which is Aug. 15-Oct. 1 and had to wait one full year before we could work in the river and put in the new intake system for the water plant. When expertise was needed from a subcontractor who was initially involved it would take weeks to get them back because they were on other projects. Sometimes, decisions and approvals from the different government agencies can take weeks.

     Who is taking financial responsibility for the plant’s pumps failure? The staff of Idaho Rural Development under the United States Department of Agriculture, has given Kamiah extra grants to cover the cost. They are fantastic people to work with, offering expertise and advice. The direct costs are being recorded by Idaho Rural Development and the indirect costs by Jerry Shaffer, who is an engineering consultant. When we have the total cost of everything, there will be a claim made against the engineer’s insurance company.

     I would like to thank TD&H Engineering for taking responsibility and special thanks to Michelle Bly of TD&H for the $830,000 grant that she got for Kamiah from the Army Corps of Engineers to help repair the water distribution system.

     I would also like to give special thanks to Barry Roark of Idaho Stage Construction, who after finishing the project could have left after the pumps failed. Barry, who is an outstanding citizen of our community agreed to stay on and finish the repairs.

     I would also like to thank Kamiah’s Public Works employees for dealing with all the headaches and frustrations that they had to deal with.

     I also would like to say that we hope to have the plant hooked up to the distribution system in June. The total amount of the grants that Kamiah has received total $2,997,730, of which $1,536,621 is from the USDA, $631,109 is from the Idaho Commerce Block Grants and $830,000 from the Army Corps of Engineers.


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