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Water and sewer board approves $6.5M addition to new plant

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By Bella Butler MANAGING EDITOR

BIG SKY – The Big Sky County Water and Sewer District board broke out its checkbook at a March 15 meeting to approve significant cost increases for an addition to its new wastewater resource recovery facility, which has been under construction since last summer.  

An addition to the large-scale infrastructure project was introduced as part of the contractor’s original bid in January 2021, but the district board chose to table it at the time. Now, more than a year later, the board voted unanimously to move forward with the addition, known formally as bid alternate No. 2, but at nearly 130 percent of the initial bid.

Phase 1 of the WRRF project will more-than double the district’s current wastewater treatment capacity when finished. Bid alternate No. 2 includes the construction of an additional tank that will expand that capacity even more. Though this addition is not part of the Phase 1 plan, the district’s executive director, Ron Edwards, said it’s more cost effective and efficient to include it in the contractor’s current scope of work.

“A lot of it’s opportunity,” he told EBS after the March 15 meeting, “because we’ve got a contract, we’ve got a batch plant, we’ve got engineering drawings … I think things will get even more expensive over time … Getting it done now makes sense.”

According to Edwards, the board chose not to approve the additional work last year in order to get the Phase 1 construction started quicker. RSCI, the contractor, initially bid the additional work at $4.9 million and said it would hold that price for a period of time.

Ahead of the March 15 meeting, RSCI rebid the work at roughly $6.4 million, due to inflated building and supply costs, RSCI Project Manager Trent Dyksterhouse explained to the board during the meeting.

While the board could have secured the cheaper bid for the additional work if the funds had been committed last year, Edwards said RSCI could still have submitted a change order with increased costs after the fact.

District board director Mike DuCuennois said at the time when the $4.9 million bid was issued, full funding for the project hadn’t yet been finalized.

“We were just nervous about taking on that additional fiscal risk prior to letting it play out a little bit more,” he said. “The decision was better to make now than before.”

Additional material testing and engineering work bring the alternate’s total closer to $6.5 million. An unallocated chunk of a $43 million First Security Bank loan to the district will fund the additional work.

At the meeting, the board also approved the use of $817,000 from its reserves to fund cleaning of its aeration pond.

Total costs for the project are $52 million, according to board director Mike Wilcynski, with more alternates likely coming into the project’s sphere of work down the road.

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