Most of the work on the whirlwind, citywide sewer improvement blitz Brownsville Public Utilities Board launched two years ago is finished — much to the relief of motorists and, no doubt, residents’ noses.
Of the 13 separate sanitary sewer improvement and rehabilitation projects that BPUB undertook with $46.1 million in federal stimulus funds through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, all but four are complete.
The $5.2 million Los Ebanos Subdivision Gravity Sewer Replacement Project should be done in March, while June will likely see completion of the $7.8 million West Brownsville Sewer Rehabilitation Project, and the $6.1 million Regional Sewer Lift Station No. 64 and Farm-to-Market 802 Gravity Sewer Upgrades. The Southmost Wastewater Collection System and Lift Stations Project should be finished by the end of February.
John Bruciak, BPUB general manager and CEO, said the work focused on eliminating overflow issues associated with a worn-out sewage infrastructure, portions of which are more than 80 years old.
Overflows would occur when heavy rain caused the system to back up, with disgusting results for nearby residents.
“Some of the older systems we had in town were in dire need of repair,” Bruciak said. “These projects were pretty much targeted to eliminate all those overflows. It should help a lot of the old areas of the town that had frequent problems in the past.”
In all, 30 miles of sewer pipe and 17 sewer lift stations will have been replaced or rehabilitated and 11 lift stations permanently removed. BPUB prioritized the projects according to the frequency of problems in each service area — those with sewer line cave-ins and overflows being the highest priorities.
The projects completed include the Resaca Boulevard Sewer Force Main and Lift Station ($2.4 million), Ramireño Sewer Rehabilitation Project ($2.2 million), Boca Chica and Central Boulevard Sewer Rehabilitation Project ($1.8 million), Coffee Port and Old Port Isabel Road Sewer Replacement ($3.2 million), Sewer Lift Stations Improvement ($2.3 million), Texas Highway 48 Gravity Sewer Line Improvements ($2.6 million), Downtown Lift Station and Force Main ($3 million), Lincoln and Grant Streets Wastewater Collection and Force Main Improvements ($947,213), and Sewer Lift Station No. 48 Rehabilitation ($501,811).
Things have gone according to schedule for the most part, Bruciak said, although bad weather delayed some projects, as did the inevitable surprises that come from dealing with antiquated infrastructure.
“Most of them have gone along OK,” he said. “It’s kind of slow construction in the old parts of town and not something that can move really fast.”
Once BPUB was notified of its eligibility to apply for the ARRA grant, it had 30 days to complete plans and specifications for all 13 projects. Likewise, according to ARRA rules BPUB had to start all the projects at the same time to get them all done within a relatively short time. Bruciak acknowledged the inconvenience to drivers and residents and said BPUB would rather have tackled them one at a time, though that wasn’t an option.
“We didn’t have the luxury of doing that with the federal funding,” he said.
In addition to the $46.1 million ARRA grant, BPUB contributed $14.6 million from its project fund to pay for extra work stemming from unanticipated problems in dealing with the old infrastructure. Bruciak said the federal grant allowed BPUB to fix big problems with the city’s sewer system without having to pass the cost on to ratepayers. It also meant a lot of work for dozens of contractors, engineers, vendors and suppliers — more than 60 in all.
“It did put a lot of people to work,” Bruciak said. “It was a stimulus project and I think it really helped our area in all facets of the community. I think it was really beneficial for our area to get such a large grant.”