City must find new home for spare pipes

Plans by the state to replace the deck on the Dean B. Cranmer bridge on West State Street next year have the Salem Utilities Commission talking about finding a new place for storage.

The city uses a section under the bridge to store pipe fittings, valves, fire hydrants and other supplies used by the utilities department in its day-to-day work. When the bridge work begins next year, the 4,800 square feet of space used for storage will have to be vacated.

Utilities Superintendent Don Weingart suggested the commission revisit the idea of building a storage building at the site which used to be home to the city’s old waterworks, just off of Pennsylvania Avenue near the bridge. The city already has two other smaller buildings the utilities department uses at the site, along with a third building used as headquarters for the city electrician.

Commission Chairman Bob Hodgson asked Weingart to present them with a formal proposal at next month’s meeting, with detailed drawings and cost estimates for a building.

Weingart had asked them to take a look at an old proposal from 2000 for a 1,500-square-foot steel building where they could store their materials. The commission at the time had gone out to bid on the project, but then decided not to go forward. The low bid at the time was $55,400. A 2010 estimate was $75,000 to $80,000 for a similar building.

He explained that the storage under the bridge was damp and dusty due to road dirt and not the ideal spot for storage of fittings.

Hodgson said the bottom line was that they have to have everything out of there when the bridge work begins, slated for the summer of 2015. Both he and commission member Bennie Funderburg questioned why they would go smaller than what they need, telling Weingart to bring

a proposal for an adequately-sized building for what they need.

“We need to be proactive with our equipment maintenance,” Hodgson said.

In other business, he said he’s had a concern since he’s been on the commission regarding the perpetual continuation of staff. He’s asked Weingart and Utilities Assistant Superintendent Matt Hoopes to start putting together a staffing continuation plan to have adequate backup at the facilities operated by the utilities department. He said there are some dedicated senior staff in the department and he was encouraging younger staff members to continue to get training and education.

The commission also formally adopted the language for the utilities department operations manual for a policy approved last month on how to handle requests for reductions on higher-than-normal water and sewer bills due to leaks or water line breaks.

According to the policy, the customer has to pay the total cost of the water side of the bill since the water went through the meter. On the sewer side, though, customers will only be required to pay half of the amount in excess of the normal 12-month average usage. If it can be proven that none of the lost water entered the wastewater treatment system, then they’ll only be required to pay the one-year average monthly sewer usage cost for the billing period in question.

The policy will be administered at the Salem Utilities Department billing office, with the commission only becoming involved as a mediator for unresolved issues.