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Williams News | Williams, Arizona

home : latest news : local May 25, 2016

5/13/2014 10:28:00 AM
Williams infrastructure: '130 years worth of projects'
Road damage on Edison Avenue between Humbolt Street and Newton Street. The city of Williams would need $116,667 to replace the pavement on this stretch of road. Ryan Williams/WGCN
Road damage on Edison Avenue between Humbolt Street and Newton Street. The city of Williams would need $116,667 to replace the pavement on this stretch of road. Ryan Williams/WGCN
The pavement damage on Grand Canyon Boulevard between Fulton Avenue and Edison Avenue would cost the city of Williams $189,583 to repair. Ryan Williams/WGCN
The pavement damage on Grand Canyon Boulevard between Fulton Avenue and Edison Avenue would cost the city of Williams $189,583 to repair. Ryan Williams/WGCN

Marissa Freireich
Williams-Grand Canyon News Reporter

WILLIAMS, Ariz. - Like most cities, Williams is facing the challenge of how to replace its aging infrastructure. But unlike most cities, Williams is also facing a water crisis, which means any money that may have gone toward improving roads and the water system is now being directed toward finding a new water supply.

Because of an unusually dry winter, the city declared a water crisis and implemented the highest level of water restrictions on Feb. 25. Finding a new well has taken precedence over plans to fix leaky water lines, inaccurate water meters, and pothole-ridden streets.

Even without the water crisis, making all of the city's necessary infrastructure improvements would be an enormous task, according to City Manager Brandon Buchanan.

"People don't understand how expensive infrastructure is, whether it's a block (of pavement replacement) for $50,000 minimum or you're looking at $100 a foot of pipe when you're replacing that," he said. "So it gets real expensive real quick."

Street repairs

Before the city declared a water crisis at the end of February, engineers and city staff conducted a street improvement study. Based on the recommendations from that study, the cost to fix or replace pavement on every street in town came out to about $37,245,817.

"It's 130 years worth of projects," Buchanan said, adding that amount is in today's dollars. "And that's 130 years if I fix it once and then it's done. Once I fix it it's only good for at best 10 years. So unless we win the Powerball anytime soon, it's going to be an ongoing battle."

Starting March 1, 2013, Williams' sales tax rate increased from 3 percent to 3.5 percent. The money generated from the tax increase, which averages about $300,000 per year, was set aside for street repairs.

In an interview in February, Buchanan said the city would have to decide whether to fix a larger amount of the streets in moderate disrepair to preserve them before they got any worse or fix a smaller amount of the streets in severe disrepair that saw heavier traffic.

However, the street improvement project is currently on hold and the $300,000 planned for the improvements is now going toward finding a new water source.

But Williams residents will see improvements on two blocks of streets that see heavy traffic thanks to some money from a county tax. At a March 27 City Council meeting, members unanimously approved using about $200,000 of funding reserved for flood control uses for four projects, two of which are street related. The money will pay for the reconstruction of Second and Third streets between Railroad Avenue and Route 66. Besides removing and replacing the asphalt, the project will also include improvements to the drainage works on those blocks.

The other projects are drainage improvements at Third Street and Grant Avenue and sidewalk and gutter replacement at Fifth Street and Hancock Avenue.

The work on the projects is set to start in early summer. However, any other street repair projects will have to wait until the water crisis is resolved.

Water infrastructure

When city workers went to fix a leak on the west side of town recently, they exposed about 20 feet of pipe and found that length of pipe had about 11 clamps.

"That's what we've always had to do is just put the temporary fix on it, but the temporary fixes have always become permanent," Buchanan said. "So you know it's where do we come up with the money to do the permanent fixes?"

Buchanan said that small section of pipe is likely indicative of the city's water infrastructure as a whole.

"Not just here but everywhere, infrastructure-especially water and wastewater-once it's buried it's pretty well forgotten," Buchanan said. "As long as water's coming out of the tap, it's okay, everything's working fine. But there's no end because it is so expensive, it makes it hard to be proactive on any of this stuff."

Buchanan estimates replacing the Dogtown water line alone, which extends from Dogtown Lake and the two wells into town, would cost about $3.5 million. The water lines for the distribution system within town would also be costly to replace.

"We've got pipes in the ground that are 100 years old that were never intended to be there for 100 years," Buchanan said. "But that's every small town."

One of the major projects that needs to be addressed within the water system is a water meter replacement program. Water meters start to under-register the amount of water customers use as the meters age. After testing 21 residential meters recently, staff found that on average the meters were reading with 72 percent accuracy.

"Even if we are able to increase our (water) supply, we don't want to just be losing that with leaks and not metering and all this other stuff that is going on," Buchanan said. "How many businesses can give away 30 percent of their revenue and be okay with that?"

Buchanan added that he believes the 72 percent accuracy figure is on the low side, since no commercial meters were tested.

"The inaccuracy speeds up on those because there's more water going through them," he said.

Buchanan estimated it might cost in the $1 million range to replace all of the city's meters, both commercial and residential.

Water supply

Last week the city council approved a proposal from a well company in Chino Valley for installing a new pump and other equipment at the Rodeo Well for $416,015 (see related story). The money originally slated for street repairs will go toward covering this unexpected cost.

"We're going to scrape the bottom of every barrel we have and come up with $400,000 because that's what needs to be done," Buchanan said.

After the equipment is installed and the city pumps the Rodeo Well for 30 days, officials will take water samples. At that point, the city can determine if it will be economically feasible to treat the water from the Rodeo Well based on the arsenic, carbon dioxide and dissolved oxygen levels.

"Like a lot of what we do it's an expensive gamble," Buchanan said.

If it is not viable for the city to use the Rodeo Well, officials will use the pump and other equipment for another well.

A company recently completed a geophysical study of two possible well sites on Garland Prairie Road and South Road. The study used radar to map underground structures and determine where water was likely to be located. It will take about two weeks until the city receives the data from the studies, which cost about $40,000 total.

Potential funding sources

While the problems with the city's infrastructure are clear, finding the money to pay for them is not.

At the May 8 City Council meeting, members directed staff to apply for funding from the Water Infrastructure Financing Authority. Buchanan said the situation could come down to taking out a loan for the water meter replacement program, and then using the additional money generated from the new accurate meters to finance a loan for a larger project.

"So you take out a $1 million loan to generate an additional $400,000 a year maybe that you could then pledge toward a larger loan to pay for a well or the Dogtown line or whatever it is," he said. "You're basically taking out one loan so you can finance a project that'll get you enough financing to finance a bigger project."

Impact fees may also help pay for some improvements in the long run. Although Williams has suspended the issuance of any new building permits during the water crisis, the city council approved an ordinance at its March 13 meeting to allow three exceptions: if the council has already granted a water allocation and the impact fees have already been paid, if the construction will not have any new fixture units connected to the city's potable water supply, and if the permit application was submitted and in process before the city implemented level four water restrictions.

The Love's Travel Stop at Grand Canyon Boulevard north of Interstate 40 and two hotels planned for Seventh Street near the Winchester Steakhouse qualify under these exceptions and will generate an estimated $714,000 in water and wastewater impact fees and permit fees.

"You look around and you can see that the current tax base isn't going to support the repairs that we need obviously," Buchanan said. "If our budget can only afford $300,000 and we've got $37 million in just streets, we need to broaden that tax base."

While finding a new water source is currently the city's primary objective, the infrastructure problem is still a priority.

"We're doing the best we can with what we've got, like always," Buchanan said.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Article comment by: oh oh bobby please give it a break

You are right, no city council man or women or mayor wants good jobs for the citizens of Williams. They turn down companies left and right to make sure no one has a good job. Chased out of town? That's laughable. Wanting the city to give them benefits that out weigh what they might provide in jobs, maybe.

Bellmont or Williams? Cheaper land, no sales tax, more water. Closer to a bigger city and work force. Yeah that's hard to figure out.

Posted: Friday, May 23, 2014
Article comment by: Bobby Patricca

Bellemont has several large facilities that provide year-round jobs, along with Flagstaff and it's numerous manufacturing facilities. A couple years ago, one operation in Flagstaff opened a temporary facility, with hopes of building and opening a permanent site in Bellemont. To my knowledge, our town leaders have never pursued any such venture. And when these ventures to come to look at Williams, they are chased out of town by the small-but-vocal faction that strongly oppose anything new coming here. How many projects over the years have looked at Williams, or even announced plans, yet never gotten off the ground or just flat out walked away after being confronted by the few select locals that don't want any change?

This type of mentality is killing this town. How many people between 18-35 are active in this community in terms of community service? Very few, simply because the SOP for youth in Williams is to graduate high school and leave for somewhere else that can provide jobs. Graduation is coming up. In August, count how many are still in town and actually making moves to pursue a career while in Williams. My guess? Less than a dozen. Everyone else leaves for "greener pastures" where they can build the foundation for their future. And it certainly isn't Williams.

Posted: Monday, May 19, 2014
Article comment by: oh Bobby please

Where and what is this magical "year-round" industry you speak of? All you do is talk bs. If it was easy or even remotely possible, Williams would have this fairy tale you keep talking about.

Posted: Thursday, May 15, 2014
Article comment by: Misty Circle

"It's 130 years worth of projects," Buchanan said, adding that amount is in today's dollars. "And that's 130 years if I fix it once and then it's done. Once I fix it it's only good for at best 10 years. So unless we win the Powerball anytime soon, it's going to be an ongoing battle."
I see a major bad pattern here ... "If 'I' fix it ..." then "WE have to win the Powerball ..."
"I" Buchanan has fixed nothing. Everything is broken. "WE" have not been included in anything except winning The Powerball. WE are not sharing Powerball with "I" Buchanan.

Posted: Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Article comment by: elect a new mayor please

$416,000 for the rodeo well ??? What a joke!! The water wasn't any good 10 years ago, now it MIGHT be? What a waste of money. Just what in the heck has the mayor and council been doing the last 8 years??? Sitting around and doing nothing about anything, Nothing for the wells, water pipes, and street repair. Too worried about having weddings at the golf course.

Posted: Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Article comment by: Bobby Patricca

If the leaders of Williams had taken the initiative 20 years ago to get year-round industry and jobs, perhaps the revenues would have been able to pay for a decent amount of this work that is needed. Instead, everyone buried their heads in the sand and said "tourism will never die, let's just live on that". Well guess what, the recession has absolutely crippled our town financially and we were left out in the cold. Airport Road from Edison to the BNSF tracks is a minefield. If Williams had built the industrial park by the airport that they promised 14 years ago, the revenues from that would have gotten that road taken care of while it was still in repairable shape. Instead, the entire road is a disaster and most likely has to be ripped up all the way to the ground and rebuilt, something that will cost an outrageous amount of money and will probably never be done at this point. Might as well just rip it up and make it a gravel road.

Bottom line, Williams dug itself into this hole, and now everyone is suddenly shocked that the town is falling apart. This "old school" way of thinking is going to kill Williams within 10 years, mark my words. All it's going to take is a couple ruptured water mains and a failure of the power system, and you can kiss this town goodbye.

Posted: Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Article comment by: Williams Taxpayer

This article clearly sounds as if the the town manager is laying the foundations for increases in taxs, fees, etc....I Say No. Before we raise taxes we need to cut luxurys like the pool, golf course, subsidizing the local Vistors Bureau (which should be supporte dby local business that getr the benefit from it), etc

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