$2.5M contract for Sycamore water main work approved, set to begin before April

Residents near project expected to receive lead information notice ahead of work beginning

Second Ward Alderman, Chuck Stowe (left) and city attorney Keith Foster (right) listen as Sycamore City Manager Michael Hall (center) talks during the March 20, 2023 Sycamore City Council meeting.

SYCAMORE – The Sycamore City Council awarded a $2.5 million contract to a Gilberts-based company for water main improvement projects on DeKalb and Elm streets, with construction set to start before April.

The contract was approved in a 6-0 vote, with 4th Ward Aldermen David Stouffer and Virginia Sherrod absent.

City Manager Michael Hall said the project was identified as a priority project in the city’s Water Master Plan, which was created in 2019 and approved by the Sycamore City Council as a means to address aging water infrastructure and develop a way to pay for it.

The winning – and lowest – bid came from Copenhaver Construction, but the price tag was more than $550,000 over what the city estimated for the project.

“It went out to bid. The engineer thought it would come in about a little less than $2 million, [and] it came in at $2.5 million, so [it’s] just kind of a showing that things are going up in cost,” Hall said.

City documents show three companies – Copenhaver Construction Inc., Elliot and Wood Inc. and Trine Construction Corp. – placed a bid for the water infrastructure project.

According to city documents, the local preference rule is not applicable to bids more than $1.5 million, allowing Copenhaver Construction Inc., a Kane County company, to win the bid over DeKalb-based Elliot and Wood Inc.

Copenhaver Construction is expected to have completed a substantial portion of the water main replacement project by June 30, according to city documents. The replacement of 1,019 feet of 8-inch water main and 2,413 feet of 10-inch water main on DeKalb and Elm streets in Sycamore will be completed by July 31.

According to city documents, the cost of 10-inch directional drill PVC water main was $160 last year, but this year that price has risen by $67.44 to $227.44.

According to the city’s Water Master Plan, Sycamore maintains about 115 miles of water main serving 7,000 users; however, more than 45% of Sycamore’s water mains are at least 50 years old. Documents show about 43 miles of water main were built in the 1950s or before.

“So we’ll exhaust our infrastructure funds that are currently in balance and then we will borrow from the sewer fund and then pay that back with infrastructure – future infrastructure fee money. Think of it to where we’re getting a loan from ourselves is how we’ll do that.”

—  Sycamore Public Works Director Matt Anderson

Documents show the 2023 water main improvements will “improve water circulation in the project corridor and surrounding area, replace lead service lines as well as replace sections of main that are frequent to water main breaks and potential service interruptions.”

To pay for the replacement of more than 3,000 feet of water main infrastructure, the city will use two sources of capital expenditure funds.

“There are funds in the water department and there are some funds in the sewer department that we’ll probably be tapping into, and then the water department pays back the sewer department,” Hall said.

The City Council increased residents’ water fees after a November 2020 vote that imposed a base $6.90 infrastructure fee on Sycamore residents’ water bills to help fund water system improvements. On Monday, the council approved increases to its water availability and user rate fees – but not the infrastructure fee – because, according to city documents, the fee structure wasn’t bringing in enough revenue.

Anderson said that since its implementation in 2021 through March 3, the city has collected about $1.5 million through the water infrastructure fees. All of the money currently in the infrastructure fund, however, will be used for the 2023 water main projects, requiring the city to dip into a different fund.

“So we’ll exhaust our infrastructure funds that are currently in balance, and then we will borrow from the sewer fund and then pay that back with infrastructure – future infrastructure fee money,” Anderson said. “Think of it to where we’re getting a loan from ourselves is how we’ll do that.”

First Ward Alderman Alan Bauer asked if moving money between the water and sewer funds would “create a flag” when the city is audited, but city officials said that wasn’t a concern.

“We have money and an infrastructure fee to pay it back, so we just set up a schedule to pay it back over a period of time,” Hall said. “So, yeah, no problem there at all.”

Residents to receive notice

Documents show that the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency issued Sycamore a permit for 2023 water main work on Feb. 24, and Sycamore residents on the affected streets are expected to receive notice should their water be affected by water main work.

According to an outline of water main improvements provided by the civil and environmental engineering firm that designed the project plans, Trotter and Associates Inc., residents in the area of the replacement of water mains or partial lead service lines must be notified at least 14 days before work begins.

“Our water system will soon begin a water line maintenance and/or construction project that may affect the lead concentrations in your drinking water,” according to the lead information notice. “Lead, a metal found in natural deposits, is harmful to humans’ health, especially young children and pregnant women.”

According to the notice, disruption such as construction, maintenance or water main replacement can sometimes cause a temporary increase in lead levels in the affected water supply.

Sycamore residents will be urged to use cold water instead of hot during construction, as lead dissolves more easily in hot water. Boiling the water will not help, according to the notice.

Flushing water for three to five minutes before use is recommended for residents with lead service lines during water main work. If residents don’t have a lead service line, they’re asked to run tapwater for one to two minutes before using it during water main work.

Sycamore’s water mains are made of iron, which also can be found in the region’s groundwater. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, iron exceeding 0.3 milligrams per liter can cause water to have a rusty color, taste metallic or have sediment in it.

After the water main work, Curran Contraction is expected to complete $356,000 in street improvement work, documents show, although the city expects to receive $285,000 from federal road funding.

In the situations where it’s possible, Anderson said crews are taking care to not repave roads that may need water mains and service lines under them to be replaced.

“We don’t want to do the road but not do the water main, and do the water main in three years and tear up a brand-new road,” Anderson said. “I think this project is one of need and will provide value in the city.”

The vote to approve a contract for the project came more than a month after Sycamore officials announced that they settled a $6 million class-action lawsuit over water quality concerns, including a foul odor and discoloration as well as fears over documented elevated lead and chlorine levels.

According to the settlement agreement reached out of court in January, the city is required to pay an average of $1.2 million annually toward water infrastructure improvements through 2027. The settlement also requires the city to pay for additional testing of lead and chlorine levels annually through 2025.

Sycamore already conducts annual water testing; however, the settlement stipulates a larger pool of properties be tested using a laboratory chosen under the settlement agreement.

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