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Rising costs won't curb water plans

LAWRENCEVILLE - Despite rising costs of chemicals used to treat water materials for the pipes to transport it to homes, Gwinnett officials don't plan to cut any of the planned upgrades.

But some projects could be pushed back, Water Resources Director Frank Stephens said.

In 2005, copper pipe for water service lines cost the county $1.49 per foot, but during a recent bid process, the lowest price from eight bidders was more than twice that - $3.45 per foot.

The cost of high-density polyethylene pipe, a petroleum-based pipe used for stormwater, increased by 10 percent in the past year.

With inflation and the increase of technology, construction costs typically escalate at a rate of 2.8 percent every year in the water industry, Stephens said. But recently the number is closer to 6 percent.

Stephens said he's even seen some prices go up at a rate of 1 percent a month.

As far a chemicals are concerned, in water reclamation, the price of alum went up 11 percent in May, and Ferric chloride, which is used to remove phosphorus, went up 69 percent in January, water resources figures revealed.

According to Tyler Richards, a deputy director in the department, the cost of treating wastewater - due to increases in chemicals and power costs - has risen from $963 per million gallons treated in 1999 to $1,197 per million gallons in 2005.

Months ago, Stephens and his staff began anticipating the price jumps, so they've been able to keep some major projects in check.

Start dates should remain the same, but some projects could be stretched out further than expected, he said, most notably a large project redesign and expand the Yellow River wastewater facility, which treats much of southern Gwinnett's sewage.

That project will finish in 2012 instead of 2011 because of cash flow.

To avoid a jump in construction prices - estimated from $57 million to $75 million - the department pushed up the completion date of work at the Crooked Creek reclamation plant from 2010 to 2012.

Work to decommission some of the county's pump stations were pushed back - one from 2009 to 2012 and another from 2012 to 2014 - and westside water transmission mains are now scheduled to complete in 2014 instead of 2012.

But the longer projects are delayed, the more costly they become, Stephens noted.

In updating the future construction schedule, the estimate for the Out Level Creek pump station and force main went from $28 million to $34 million, and the budget for the future Patterson-Marathon pump station and force main project had to be adjusted from $21 million to $26 million.

Stephens said the estimate for a Brooks Road force main, which is even further in the future, nearly doubled from $9 million to $16 million.