Thanks to City Commission vote this week, three small water mains to be replaced later this year

$1.8-million contract awarded to Spectrum Underground

This graphic shows the locations for three of the water main replacement projects. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

In approving their March 18 Consent Agenda of routine business matters, the Sarasota City Commission agreed to the replacement of small water mains made of asbestos cement at four locations for a total of $1,810,136.35. explains, “A water main is a primary underground pipe in a municipal water distribution system. It is a major artery that supplies water to smaller pipes on the way to homes and businesses. Water mains take clean water from a city’s water treatment plant to communities that need it and is, therefore, a critical part of a nation’s utility infrastructure. The pipes transport a high volume of water under pressure to neighborhoods that are depending on water mains to bring them clean water from the city’s water treatment facility.”

Spectrum Underground Inc. of Sarasota won the city bid. The only other bid that city staff received for the project came from C-Squared Certified General Contractor of Sarasota; that amount was $4,219,527.23, the Agenda Requestform for the March 18 item noted.

The four locations at which the pipelines will be replaced are on Highland Street, 34th Street, 36th Street, and the area of Gary Street and Osbourne Drive. Backup agenda material for the March 18 item says that 3-inch water mains at those sites “have reached the end of their useful life,” so they will be replaced with 6-inch PVC pipe.

That document adds, “The overall benefits of these water main replacement projects are system resiliency, improved flow to meet demand, and compliance with fire protection standards.”

Moreover, the document notes that in an effort to expedite the projects and reduce their overall cost, city staff “previously solicited bids for the procurement of pipes, fittings and appurtenances …” That earlier action “allows the Utilities Department to better control the timing and schedule for such projects,” the document further says. “These parts have been ordered and are currently stored at the Utilities Department Complex.”

In response to a Sarasota News Leader question about the schedule for this initiative, Jan Thornburg, general manager of the city’s Communications Department, wrote in a March 19 email, “The project is expected to start in mid-May. Once a contract is executed and there’s a pre-construction meeting with staff, we will have a better idea of the contractor’s approach and timeline for each street.”

The contract says that the allowable hours for construction will be 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Further, it notes that the company may choose to start either with the Highland Street/34th and 36th streets initiative or with the Gary Street/Osborne Drive undertaking. However, all of the work must be completed in the first area before the workers move on to the next one.

This graphic shows the site of the Osborne Drive/Gary Street water main replacement project. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

WaterWorld magazine explained the following about asbestos cement pipe in a 2019 article by Lars Stenstedt: “At one time in the United States, the use of asbestos cement (AC) pipe in drinking water distribution systems was very popular. It was first installed as early as the 1930s with the peak of installation in the mid-20th century. It was used because of its light weight, low coefficient of friction and resistance to corrosion. Unfortunately, it was later discovered through scientific studies that people who consume water with high amounts of asbestos over extended periods may face an increased risk of developing benign intestinal polyps and an increased risk of cancer, including mesothelioma. Because of this, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) promulgated regulations to monitor the level of asbestos in drinking water.

“Under the Safe Drinking Water Act,” the article continued, “asbestos is limited to 7 million fibers per liter (MFL) of water.”

The article also pointed out that “AC pipe can contain as much as 12 percent asbestos fiber content.”

In July 2019, William Riebe, then the city’s Utilities Department director, explained to the commissioners the need to upgrade the city’s water and wastewater systems, as made clear by an in-depth staff analysis. If the commissioners did not agree to the proposed 135 projects, he said, “There’s going to be pipe failures; there’s going to be sewage on the ground; there’s going to be water [line] breaks; there’s going to be continued poor water quality in terms of taste and odor” and regulatory issues with which to contend.

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