Water tank repairs loom large

| 22 Feb 2012 | 08:30

    Sticker shock could be softened by state aid package By Tom Hoffman SUSSEX - When Sussex Borough had a 300,000-gallon water tank painted in the mid-1990s, officials were told that the coating should last for at least a couple of decades. Now, just 14 years later, sections of paint are peeling away, leaving bare metal in some spots and corrosion and rust in others. To help it prepare more effectively for long-term maintenance and repairs on this tank — and a 500,000 gallon tank used to support its water utility customers — the borough has begun working with United Water to develop a long-term maintenance and finance plan. Officials from United Water gave a presentation to the borough council at its May 5 meeting about the status of the two tanks and how the company would approach needed repairs and maintenance. Although both tanks are structurally sound, the most costly repair work involves sandblasting the exterior of the smaller tank, said Marty Mazzella, a consultant for Utility Service Co., a sister company to United Water located in Easton, Pa. Sandblasting is particularly pricey in New Jersey since the state requires that a tent be erected around the tank to prevent lead and other harmful particles from entering the air, said Mazzella. As a result, “blast containment” can cost up to $100,000, he said. Although Mazzella and other United Water officials haven’t provided any cost estimates yet and don’t plan to for a few more weeks, they indicated that their services wouldn’t come cheap. But there is some good news for the borough. *Sussex has learned it’s entitled to a combination of $596,000 in grants and loans from the state’s Traditional Financing Program/ARRA Financing Program, according to Catherine Gleason, the borough clerk. Nearly $300,000 would be grant money while the rest would be provided as a low-interest loan. Sussex is in the process of completing the paperwork for the funding, Gleason said. Both tanks have some internal corrosion that needs to be cleaned up, said Mazzella. Plus, the larger tank needs a new paint job. Under United Water’s proposal, the company would wash out both tanks every two years and remove any sediment. The company would also renovate the exterior of each tank every 10 years and refinish the inside of the tanks every 10 to 15 years Paying for the work While the final price tag isn’t known yet, here’s how the expenses will break down: The bulk of the costs would be spread out over the first three years of a 10-year agreement, while the borough would pay for maintenance over each of the remaining seven years, said Mazzella. Under this plan, United Water would provide annual maintenance, regular inspections and emergency repairs at no additional cost, he said. The risk of maintaining the tanks “would shift from the borough to United Water,” he said. Increases to the company’s annual maintenance fees for the 6,000 water tanks it manages across the U.S. have risen an average of 3.3 percent over the past 10 years, said George Shannon, vice president of Northeast Sales for Utility Service Co. Since United Water is the only company that offers this type of maintenance program and because the borough has a contract with the company to help maintain its water treatment plant, the town doesn’t have to put the work through a formal bidding process, said Gleason.