$120,000 change order for sewer conveyance work comes down the pipe

Published on Wed, Feb 15, 2012 by Jeremy Schwartz

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A broken sewer pipe under Drayton Harbor will cost taxpayers another $120,000, according to Blaine public works officials.

Bellingham-based Boss Construction has been working since August 2011 to install 2,200 feet of pipe under Drayton Harbor that will carry wastewater from the Semiahmoo water treatment plant to the Lighthouse Point water reclamation facility at the end of Marine Drive. This work will allow Blaine public works to close the Semiahmoo plant and rely solely on the Lighthouse Point facility, acting Blaine public works director Bill Bullock said.

The construction project called for new sewer pipe to be threaded through an older, unused stretch of pipe, which already runs underneath Drayton Harbor. This process, called sliplining, hit a snag when the force of the test pipe being pushed through the old one broke the old pipe a few yards from Marine Drive, Bullock explained.

Crews had to remove the section of old pipe before they could slipline the new one through, adding $119,674 to the project’s price tag. The extra work had to be done at extreme low tide and only after getting separate permissions from regulatory agencies in Whatcom County and the state.

“That’s very expensive to do, and that’s what the majority of the change order is for,” Bullock said.

While Blaine City Council members unanimously approved the change order request at their February 13 meeting, the need for additional money seemed to leave a bad taste in their mouths.

“I was born at the end of the depression, and $120,000 is a lot of money,” mayor Harry Robinson said.

Robinson wanted to know why the city has to pay more for something that does not seem like its fault. Robinson also asked who made the decision to run the new pipe through the old one in the first place.

“Why are we always the one who always have to come up with the money?” Robinson asked.

The project’s construction engineering firm, Seattle-based Tetra Tech, Inc., determined the best way to install the new pipe was to slipline it through the older one, Bullock explained. He estimated the permitting alone to bore a new hole under Drayton Harbor would take a year and cost roughly $100,000. 

Blaine community development director Michael Jones said boring under Drayton Harbor would trigger an environmental review, which would be required to study alternatives to boring. Sliplining the new pipe through the old one would most likely have been identified as the most viable option since it results in less impact on the surrounding environment.
“The permitting process would have led us here anyway,” Jones said.

Construction crews ran a football-sized, bullet-shaped metal object called a pig through the unused pipe to make sure it was structurally intact, Bullock explained. After finding no issues, crews than ran a test pipe through to confirm the old pipe was not broken in any places, but the test pipe ended up breaking the old one.

Every indication before the test pipe was pulled through suggested the old pipe was intact, Bullock explained. The pig exited the old pipe relatively clean, suggesting no water or mud had found its way into the pipe.

“When they pulled the pig through, the pig pulled through clean,” Bullock said.

Council member Paul Greenough said he understood the need for the change order, but predicted Blaine residents will have a problem with the amount. He suggested council members be ready to explain to their constituents why they approved the change order.

“The last time we had a change order for $100,000, we heard about it,” Greenough said.

Bullock said the entire project should be wrapped up in about six weeks.