Columbus approves contribution toward water interconnect engineering report, with stipulations

Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, August 1, 2017

COLUMBUS – The Town of Columbus agreed to contribute $8,500 towards a preliminary engineering report (PER) to see how to fix the water interconnection project, but the town wants the money to eventually come out of money the three towns won in a lawsuit over the project.

Columbus Town Council met July 20 and approved a contract with Watermark Engineering for a PER in conjunction with the Town of Tryon and City of Saluda. The total cost for the PER is $25,500, with each town contributing $8,500.

The City of Saluda also approved the contract, with the stipulation if the report is not delivered within three months, a $200/day penalty would be applied. Columbus agreed with Saluda’s penalty condition. Tryon does not meet in July and will likely consider the contract at its August meeting.

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Columbus Town Manager Tim Barth said he thinks it is really important to get the PER done so the towns can understand what the problems with the system are.

The three towns received a grant several years ago to be able to exchange water in emergency situations. A water line was constructed between Tryon and Saluda as well as other work, so water could be sent to and from the three towns. Once the project was complete, it was discovered that there were problems, mainly that when Saluda tried to send water to Tryon, Saluda customers had little to no water. A lawsuit was filed by the towns against engineer Joel Woods and the settlement was for $300,000, not including attorney fees. Saluda said it thinks the towns have approximately $170,000 from the lawsuit.

Columbus officials said the problem on Columbus’ end is that the town needs a variable speed pump. Barth said Tryon was able to send water to Columbus but Columbus can’t send water to Tryon without draining its water.

Councilwoman Margaret Metcalf asked about the lawsuit and said wasn’t the money from the lawsuit supposed to pay for any of the projects.

Barth said the lawsuit is supposed to be used for any actual work, not engineering reports.

“This will come from town water and sewer funds, but this would be the last of the funds we will pay,” said Barth.

Metcalf said Columbus council had this discussion a year or two ago and Columbus decided that the town would not going to put any more money into the interconnect project above what the lawsuit paid.

“Whatever was from the lawsuit we would do, but nothing else,” Metcalf said.

Councilman Richard Hall said Columbus recently got water from Tryon and that worked fine. If Tryon needed water from Columbus, however, it will drain Columbus’ tank pretty quickly, Hall said.

Columbus Public Works Director James Smith said when Columbus tested the system, alarms went off at the courthouse and Tryon Estates so they shut it off quickly.

Smith said if Columbus could get a variable speed pump, he thinks the problems on Columbus’ end will be fixed.

Columbus Mayor Eric McIntyre said he remembers years ago saying the problems don’t lie in Columbus and Columbus won’t spend another dime above what it was awarded in the lawsuit.

McIntyre suggested when the repairs are started, Columbus get reimbursed out of the lawsuit money the $8,500 the town spends on the PER.

McIntrye also asked whether it would cost more than $170,000 to fix the problems.

Barth said yes. Saluda officials said earlier this month the estimates to fix the problems were $1 million.

McIntyre said the only problem on Columbus’ end is the pump, so Columbus’ fix should be between $4,000 and $5,000.

Smith said the $4,000-$5,000 estimate for a pump in Columbus is best case scenario and just a guess.

Councilman Mark Phillips said $8,500 for a report is a lot of money but without the report the towns don’t know what needs to be fixed.

Columbus’ motion was to approve the $8,500 for the PER with the stipulation that Columbus retains $8,500 of the lawsuit money to reimburse the town for the expense.