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Pipeline project north of Powell under fire

Western Municipal Construction Inc. employee Doug Bruce (standing) watches the track hoe scoop a bucket of earth just before another storm in late March. Park County is threatening to shut down the water pipeline project north of Powell unless Western addresses the county’s safety concerns. Western Municipal Construction Inc. employee Doug Bruce (standing) watches the track hoe scoop a bucket of earth just before another storm in late March. Park County is threatening to shut down the water pipeline project north of Powell unless Western addresses the county’s safety concerns. Tribune file photo by Gib Mathers

A water pipeline project north of Powell has been in hot water recently, but the man in charge says things have cooled down.

Park County last week threatened to shut down the potable pipeline project unless the contractor adopted safety measures as mandated by the county.

The contractor, Western Municipal Construction (WMC) of Meeteetse, claims it has addressed all the county’s concerns.

Northwest Rural Water District is responsible for the 40-mile pipeline project to provide former North End Water Users Inc. customers with water. WMC was awarded the $6.6 million bid in September to construct the pipeline.

The county compiled a list of complaints in an April 14 letter to Dossie Overfield, the water district’s manager.

“Park County has been having issues with the contractor on the North End waterline project since they broke ground last year,” the letter states.

“Unfortunately, to this point, we have seen little to no effort on the part of the contractor to comply with the terms of the right of way permit issued for this work, even after these issues have been pointed out to the contractor repeatedly.”

WMC has not complied with plans it submitted to the county prior to construction, such as providing flaggers, warning signs or barrels to alert and control traffic, according to Gregory Meinecke, the county engineer.

The firm also was not cleaning up along the right-of-way, leaving behind trash, pipe packaging and banding. After initial excavation and temporary backfilling, the road wasn’t safe for motorists, the letter states.

After initial excavation, affected roads must be safe and passable for motorists. Once the project is finished, the roads must be returned to their original state prior to construction.

In addition, the contractor’s storage of heavy equipment and gravel along the right of way posed a risk to the public. When those items are not in use, signs and barrels must be in place to warn motorists, Meinecke said.

The county has received some complaints by locals concerning the condition of the roads, traffic control and not being informed when roads are closed, Meinecke said. He was concerned that farmers now out on tractors with harrows and other implements would have a tough time dealing with the roads and closures.

According to the letter, Dale Hobby, foreman of the Park County Road and Bridge Powell District, has attended most of the weekly project meetings and has expressed concerns the county has with the work being performed within county right of ways.

But Jock Clause, WMC’s president, said he was not aware of any problems prior to the letter. It is difficult to address any issues if he isn’t aware of them, Clause said.

There have been a few traffic problems at times, but the roads were being maintained, he said.

Overfield said it has been a long, wet winter and the contractor has struggled to maintain the county roads adjacent to the pipeline excavations.  

There have been occasions in the past when the firm had not posted signs warning motorists of construction areas, Clause said. WMC needs to keep the public and the county informed about construction zones or of temporary road closures, Overfield said.

A motorcyclist was reported to have sped through closure signs Thursday afternoon and crashed near the construction work on Road 11/Lane 7 before fleeing, according to information given to the Park County Sheriff’s Office.

The county imposed deadlines in the letter.

By 5 p.m., Friday, April 18, the contractor was to have signs and barrels in place to be in compliance with public safety and have all the refuse removed.

By 5 p.m. this Friday, (April 25) the contractor is to have all roads previously disturbed by construction passable, according to the letter to Northwest.

“Failure to comply with any of the above terms or deadlines shall result in the immediate revocation of the right-of-way permit,” the letter warned.

Clause said the company had met that deadline.

“We are in compliance as of today (Wednesday, April 16),” he said.

On Monday, Meinecke said Clause is making efforts to comply with the county’s dictates.

“I don’t know if we’re completely happy, but the contractor is making great strides toward coming into compliance,” he said.

The county could shut down the project, and work would not resume until all of the county’s concerns are rectified. Then the county would re-issue a permit. There is a concern a shutdown could delay progress, but that is unlikely.

“I don’t think it’s going to come to that,” Overfield said.

Some irrigation lines have been hit, but Western said it would repair those lines. However, Western is having trouble finding many of the damaged irrigation lines, Overfield said.

Clause said workers have hit two Shoshone Irrigation lines, but line locations have been mis-marked, or they have been unable to locate them. North End pipes have been broken, but North End repaired those pipes, and customers were without water for no more than one to a few hours, he said.

Bryant Startin, the manager of the Shoshone Irrigation District, declined to comment.

Overfield said five different entities are located in the same right-of-way where Western is working. During a big excavation project, hitting a utility line is not uncommon.

Some utility line breaks are figured into construction costs, but if Western believes continuing breaks are beyond the scope of the project, it can submit a change order request to seek additional funding, she said.

Northwest Rural, Engineering Associates, Wyoming Water Development Commission and the State Revolving Fund can review the request and determine if it is warranted and/or how much to pay, Overfield said.

Engineering Associates is the project inspector. State of Wyoming entities provided funding for the project.

Park County Commissioner Lee Livingston attended an April 15 meeting at Engineer Associates’ office in Powell with the engineers, Northwest Rural, Western Municipal, Shoshone Irrigation District and others.

Livingston said he spoke with Clause, and he believed Clause was amenable to bringing the project into compliance.

Clause said he was glad the county’s concerns were brought to his attention, Livingston said.

The North End water system was on its last legs when Northwest decided to take over and install a new pipeline. The last thing the county wants is for the project to not go forward, the commissioner said.

However, the county does want it to be completed correctly and safely, Livingston said.

The county understands the challenges Western faced this winter, and Meinecke said he doesn’t anticipate any problems with the contractor accepting the county’s demands.

“I think we just needed to be firm in our position,” Meinecke said. 

With more than 50 percent of the pipeline completed and 25 percent of the meter pits finished, Overfield said she is confident the project will be completed on schedule this fall.

“We appreciate everybody’s patience,” Overfield said. “If they have any issues, give us a call.”

Northwest’s telephone number is 307-527-4426.

Clause said anyone who has concerns may call him at 307-763-3816.

North End’s wells developed problems for approximately 200 taps in the area north of Powell several years ago. North End users agreed to allow Northwest to take over in 2011. Northwest was willing, but stipulated that a new system must be installed to replace the old pipeline, which was built in the 1960s.

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