Construction work on renovations of the Altoona Water Authority’s Bellwood dam and water treatment plant has begun.
Authority officials gave notice to proceed for both projects, whose combined total costs will be about $35.6 million, early this month, said consulting engineer Mark Glenn of Gwin Dobson & Foreman at an authority meeting this week.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said board Chairman Bill Neugebauer.
Talk about the dam project began years ago, with an initial schedule set up in 2014 that called for construction to begin as early as 2017, with completion two years later.
The authority is renovating the dam in response to pressure from the state Department of Environmental Protection finding that the emergency spillway is severely undersized.
It is renovating the treatment plant below the dam because the facility is near the end of its useful lifespan and because it makes sense to do the work when the plant couldn’t operate anyway, because the reservoir behind the dam will be empty.
A variety of factors delayed the dam project, including a permitting backlog caused by turnover at DEP, the complex design of the dam project and issues that DEP identified with the renovation plan, according to prior information provided by Gwin Dobson and a DEP spokesman.
There was also a recent delay in completing a new ozonation system at the Tipton water treatment plant, which the authority needed to be done before the Bellwood work began, so Tipton’s production can make up for the loss of Bellwood’s water output.
The plant work at Bellwood will feature an innovative membrane filtration system that screens out contaminants to the sub-micron level to replace the existing sand filtration system.
The dam work will include a zig-zag spillway whose design will save horizontal space along the dam breast while still providing adequate linear footage for spillover.
The plant contractor has begun interior demolition, Glenn said.
The dam contractor has begun “clearing and grubbing” and survey work, according to authority General Manager Mark Perry.
The authority, meanwhile, has begun drawing down the reservoir level, which could take a month, depending on how much rain occurs in the watershed, Perry said.
When the drawdown is complete, the contractor will create a bypass channel within the reservoir basin so water can flow over the emergency spillway and not through the underdrain of the dam during construction, Perry said.
The authority is still working on securing a disposal site for the silt that has collected at the bottom of the reservoir over the years.
The plan is to deposit it on Pennsylvania Game Commission property near Blandburg, but the commission is now asking the authority to take more samples of the silt than the original six that were analyzed and found to meet “clean fill criteria,” Perry said.
“We’re dealing with a new group” at the commission, Perry said.
That group is looking for additional assurance that there are “no hot spots with anything they don’t want to see on their property,” he said.
In case the additional samples end up nixing the Game Commission deal, the authority has arranged for an alternate site on a farm on reclaimed strip mine ground near Beccaria that is used to grow vegetation that wild deer feed upon, Perry said.
The owner of that ground would welcome the silt to increase the fertility of the soil, he said.
Sending it there would increase the authority’s costs, as it’s 10 miles farther than the Blandburg site, he said.
Lobar Inc. of Dillsburg is the general contractor for the plant, while Bob Biter Electrical Enterprises of Cresson is the electrical contractor and Pall Corp. is the filtration equipment supplier.
The plant’s total estimated cost is $11.12 million.
Allusion Park Contractors of Gibsonia is the dam contractor.
The dam’s total estimated cost is $24.5 million.
Low-interest loans from Pennvest are financing the project.
“We’re on our way,” Glenn said.
“Good to know now we’re really moving,” Neugebauer said.
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.