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Two Sewer Projects Come in at Nearly $16 Million – $2 Million Over Budget

Residents hit by flooding demanded action years ago, but others who stand to lose trees now are angry and feel they were not properly informed. The project was also bid nearly $2 million over budget.

Bids were opened Friday on two major sewer improvement projects – one of them considered the city's largest public works undertaking to date – coming in at a cost of nearly $16 million together.

The two projects, known as the Meineke Project and the North 65th St./Eagle St. Project, call for reconstructing or relining sewer laterals to stop home  flooding and bring the area into compliance with Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District and DNR requirements.

The Board of Public Works will be asked to approve the low bids on the projects at 8:30 a.m. Monday, and if it does, the projects could go to the Common Council on Tuesday night.

It is unlikely that the long-awaited and hugely expensive Meineke Project would be delayed at this point, but some residents in the affected areas are calling for a halt, saying they were not fully informed of the scope of the work.

Also, bids well above budgeted city estimates could send the project back to the Budget and Finance Committee for review.

Where it is and what is being done

The Meineke Project encompasses:

  • Menomonee River Parkway from Swan Boulevard to 90th Street
  • 90th Street from Menomonee River Parkway to Meinecke Avenue
  • Meinecke Avenue from Swan Boulevard to 80th Street
  • 86th Street from Meinecke Avenue to Wright Street
  • Wright Street from 86th Street to 81st Street

The low bid, from Globe Contractors Inc., was $14,440,607.40, and it is being recommended for adoption. However, that figure is $2 million above the city's estimate and that overage was not budgeted.

The work includes storm and sanitary sewer line construction, water mains, excavation and repaving of streets and curbs, electrical lines, traffic signals, street lights and more – pretty much the whole shooting match.

The project will also cost the city a lot of street trees, which has some neighbors hopping mad.

City Engineer Bill Wehrley said that the project will take more than a year to complete.

The smaller North 65th St./Eagle St. Project entails work on:

  • 65th Street between North Avenue and Clarke Street
  • Eagle Street between 80th Street and Wauwatosa Avenue

Both the extent of the project and the scope of work are smaller there, with a low bid of $1,015,270 from Musson Brothers for most of the project and consulting contracts and city work bringing the total project cost to $1,414,687.

That was about $55,000 under city estimates.

Different sets of neighbors upset at different times

Ald. Jeff Roznowski of the 6th District, where most of the work will occur, said that he had received seven calls and e-mails from constituents who were angry that they were just learning about the project and were unaware that it would tear up streets and take down trees.

Some, he said, even want the project stopped.

But Roznowski said that while he sympathizes, he has a much longer contact list of residents going back years who have been anxious for the project to get moving forward because of the many basement floodings they have suffered.

"The origins of this go back probably 15 years," Roznowski said, "to the major floods in 1997 and '98. Many people had flooded basements in those years, an none more than along Meineke."

Roznowski said that a pump was installed in the heavily affected area, but when storms returned with a vengeance in 2008, flooding still occurred in dozens of homes.

"Public hearings were held in December 2008," he said, "and it was really fueled by the people who experienced flooding. There were many, many more people than I'm hearing from now."

The spring of 2009 brought yet more major storms, and the story was the same, with a big public meeting attended by the mayor, aldermen and city staff.

"Commitments were made that this (project) would happen," Roznowski said. "Dozens and dozens of people turned out, wanting something to be done."

He said that was followed by another hearing in December 2010 on the capital budget, which thanks to the Meineke project was the largest in memory.

"The project wass of such magnitude that all of 2011 was spent designing it," Roznowski said.

But with the project moving ahead, he said, public involvement dropped off.

With project approved, attention turns elsewhere

When a major change to the project to route a 10-foot sewer main down North 90th Street spawned another public hearing, two residents showed up. When a hearing on the bid-letting was held April 10, again, two attended – and one of them was Roznowski.

"The irony is that all the people who were affected by the flooding had gotten involved and were satisfied that this was finally happening," Roznowski said.

"The people who were not affected by flooding are now learning that they are going to be affected by the project. I've heard concerns about safety, about the enormous expense, about parking, congestion and, of course, trees.

"But everything up until a week ago has been about flooding and how to stop it."

Roznowski said that when it was realized just last year that main laterals leading to MMSD collectors would need to be as large as 10 feet in diameter and buried 20 feet deep, it called for more excavation and heavier equipment than anticipated.

"That's when we learned that trees were going to have to come down," he said. "At first, it was most of the trees in the area, 240 of them. But we've gotten that down to 60.

"I think we could have done a better job of communicating that, but it came in late in the planning. Still, yes, we should have done a better job."

Roznowski said that the importance of the project goes far beyond either the cost, loss or inconvenience residents will experience during the project.

"This is fundamentally about flood abatement in the most susceptible part of the city," he said. "But on top of that, it's the future of the city. Our sewer infrastructure is 90 years old, it's failing or inadequate, and we're building for the next 90 years.

"Do we want to be known as a community where basements flood constantly, where people lose their precious belongings on an annual basis, that is teetering on non-compliance with the DNR and MMSD? Or do we want to solve the problem and keep Tosa an attractive place for people to move into?

"It's expensive but it's necessary and more than worth it."

Nick Schweitzer May 14, 2012 at 03:56 PM
These are the sorts of projects that cities are responsible for, and need to save money for. One more reason not to waste money on foolish boondoggles like extra special bright flashy signage around the train tracks, and other gimmicky items that Wauwatosa has often tried to fund. When we spend our money foolishly, then we under maintain important items like roads and sewers, which while not sexy or glamorous, are really the heart of the cities responsibility. Now the bill is coming due. Hopefully the Common Council will plan accordingly.
Random Blog Commenter May 14, 2012 at 07:06 PM
Nick is correct. Streets and sewers are a primary function of local government. We as a city have the equivilent of the need to put a new roof on our house -- that takes priority over new granite countertops or even that third bedroom for the new kid. Our council should also keep this in mind with regard to TIF districts -- all of an allocated TIF does not have to be used. Keeping those costs under the limit puts those taxable parcels back into the city budget mix sooner. Also, if saving trees is increasing the price of the project (speculation based upon the fact that avoiding things usually increases the cost -- this would be a good question for Mr. Price to ask) -- then start up the chain saws. Trees grow back. I've been watching a bunch of terrace trees in front of my house grow from sticks in the past 5 years.

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