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Pine Street pipeline, new pump station could be hedge against the next Harvey

December 2, 2018

Tropical Storm Harvey exposed flaws in Beaumont’s ability to provide water to residents in an extreme emergency. A new pump station and pipeline under Pine Street could offer a way to address them.

The city’s only pump station to pull water the Neches River was swamped by Harvey’s floodwaters. Largely as a result, residents were without water service for more than a week, among other problems.

Tiger Industrial Rentals provided three pumps that provided enough for flushing and bathing until the regular station was back online. But history shows with a storm like Harvey, it’s not a fail-proof system.

“Some people may be critical that Beaumont lost its water, but you can’t prepare for 64 inches of (rain),” Mayor Becky Ames said. “You just can’t. The two pumping stations that breached weren’t ever even close” to being swamped by previous storms.

Five projects totaling nearly $29 million might be the way to learn from the past and prepare for the future. The Beaumont City Council last week instructed city staff to look for funding for these projects.

“At the end of the day, Harvey opened our eyes to the vulnerabilities of the existing system,” said Richard Weatherly of Freese and Nichols. The city has worked with the company on water distribution for the past 50 years.

It’s now suggesting these five projects and a full review of the city’s water system to better prepare Beaumont for the next storm and keep equipment operating at peak efficiency.

The projects include building a wall around the Pine Street Surface Water Treatment Plant’s electrical building, which saw water encroachment during Harvey but wasn’t flooded, and building an entirely new pump station near the Beaumont Country Club.

“The projects that we’re recommending are to reduce the risk that future flooding events will have on your water supply system,” Weatherly said.

The first three projects, which will likely be done as a package by the same contractor, are the smallest suggestions and construction could begin as early as mid-August 2019. They address the most immediate post-Harvey concerns.

The improvements would include a flood barrier wall around the electrical building at the Pine Street Surface Water Treatment Plant, which almost flooded during Harvey.

“The electrical building is obviously the most critical piece in water getting into it and causing failures,” Weatherly said.

The package also includes plans to expand the chemical storage capacity at the water treatment plant to 30 days from 15 days — a response to the inability for chemicals to be delivered to the plant after Harvey — and installing and replacing chemical equipment to improve reliability.

The two larger projects — a new pump station and pipeline along Pine Street — likely won’t begin construction until at least mid-2020.

“The greatest risk the city has is there’s one pipeline and one pump station going to the treatment plant,” Weatherly said. “When that system right there is compromised, then the city’s surface water supply is compromised.”

To alleviate that concern, the city could build a new electrical building 6 feet above the existing floor level, regrade the site and add crushed rock. It could also build a new pump station near the Beaumont Country Club on Pine Street.

The new pump station would provide 30 million gallons of raw water per day. Under this plan the city would also construct 3,000 feet of tunnel to connect both pump stations and 14,000 feet of pipeline along Pine Street between the new pump station and the treatment plant.

That would require tearing up part of Pine Street to build the 42-inch-wide and resurfacing the road, said City Manager Kyle Hayes. The tentative plan is to tear the road up in pieces and utilize side streets to minimize traffic disruptions.

“We’re in the preliminary stages so we’re not sure yet how it could be engineered, but it could require resurfacing,” Ames said.

The city will is looking for Federal Emergency Management Agency funds for the projects, Hayes said. It also has the option to utilize a loan from the Texas Water Development Board to pay for the improvements at the Lawson Pump Station or the new pump station and the new pipeline — a total of $18 million.

All of the proposed projects will have to come back before the Beaumont City Council for a formal vote. That would also all time for council members and the public to give their comments.

“What (we’re considering) are some changes we want to make to prepare,” Ames said. A storm like Harvey “may not ever happen again. It may happen again in three years. Any time you go through something like that you have to look at what you can do better.”

kaitlin.bain@beaumontenterprise.com

twitter.com/KaitlinBain

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