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Estimated Sewer Repair Costs Peak at $134 Million

Village officials shocked at high price tag of expanding sewer capacity and ask village staff for more information. Trustees also moved forward with a pilot project to inspect and repair private sanitary sewer laterals.

It's safe to say the Whitefish Bay Village Board was a little surprised at the $134 million price tag needed to prepare the village's sewers for a 500-year storm similar to the one that hit the village on July 22, 2010.

Donohue and Associates, the engineering firm hired by the village for its sewer work, presented the results of its Monday night, revealing that there is room under village streets for storm sewer pipes as big as eight feet in diameter needed to handle that level of rainfall.

Unfortunately, those improvements come in the nine-figure price range, much to the concern of village officials.

"I think we’re going to price people out of their home,” said Village President Julie Siegel.

The cost of putting in bigger storm sewer pipes, and performing necessary road reconstruction, sanitary sewer improvements and water main installation are:

  • $134 million to prepare for a 500-year storm, which consists of 8.4 inches of rain over a 24-hour period.
  • $110 million to prepare for a 100-year storm, or a 5.8 inch, 24-hour rain event
  • $108 million to prepare for a 10-year storm, or a 3.8 inch, 24-hour rain event.

These cost estimates do not include all of the costs associated with the village-wide lateral rehabilitation program, nor do they include costs for engineering, contingency or surface restoration.

Village trustees told Village Manager Patrick DeGrave they would like more information before choosing a level of storm sewer protection. The trustees told village engineering staff to reduce its cost estimates by focusing on the six most flood-prone areas of the village and developing cost estimates for a 10-year storm, 100-year storm and 500-year storm, including financing options for those projections.

Broken down to storm sewer pipes alone, the cost to handle a 500-year storm is estimated at $44 million, which includes the installation of nine miles of storm trunk lines ranging from two feet to eight feet in diameter. That cost estimate is an increase from the original $36 million .

All three levels of sewer protection include $2 million in partial funding for a stormwater retention basin in . The village is waiting to hear whether it received a $4 million grant from the Federal Emergency Magement Agency for the $5 million project.

They also include $1.5 million for a plan to shared by Shorewood and Whitefish Bay. The two villages approved an intergovernmental agreement detailing that cost share agreement Monday night.

Mixed reaction

Trustee Richard Foster took issue with the high cost estimate, saying the 0.2 percent chance of a 500-year storm striking on a given year is not worth it.

"It’s like spending money to avoid getting hit by a meteor," Foster said. "What's the rationale for spending money on something that’s likely not going to happen?"

Trustee Jim Roemer said the cost of not repairing the sewers may be greater than the cost of repairing them, because a sewer system in disrepair could turn away potential residents and taxpayers.

Resident Robert Crawford spoke in support of an intensive sewer repair effort.

"You're planning our sewershed for the 21st century...If we have to pay another $800 a year in taxes, it's like maintenance, just like you pay with an automobile," he said.

Moving forward with private lateral repairs

The Village Board is also moving forward with its plan to in the southern portion of the village, with the goal of eliminating clear water from the sanitary sewer system.

Trustees on Monday night gave village engineers the go-ahead to seek bids for televising inspection work. Engineers hope to have the inspection contracts awarded in early summer, and bid out the lining work in the summer.

The estimated cost of lining and inspecting the private laterals in the southern portion of the village is $2.6 million, but it is unclear how much, if any, will be paid for by the village. Trustees generally said the homeowner should be responsible for the bulk of the repair costs, and funds may also be available through the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District.

Trustee Kevin Buckley, who served at his last meeting Monday, originally lobbied to double the original sample size of the pilot project to its current size, but Monday night he said the high price tag made him second-guess the scope of the project, since it's possible foundation drains could be adding more clear water to the system than leaky laterals.

“I’m really nervous,” Buckley said. “Which elephant is bigger? Is it foundation drains or laterals?"

Since Feburary, the village has also learned that village-owned sanitary lines must be lined in order to effectively line the private laterals, adding another $821,000 to the project.

The program could be stopped at any time, but if the Village Board eventually decides to proceed with the private lateral program across the entire village, it would cost a total of $38.9 million. That cost estimate does not include the lining or replacing of main line sewer pipes, only private lateral work.

(This article was updated at 11 p.m. Tuesday)

aaaaaa April 17, 2012 at 12:57 PM
The resident who spoke of "spending another $800.00 a year" as maintenance worth spending is unfamilar with many elderly people living on fixed incomes. That is a lot of money. While I agree that money needs to be spent we must be mindful of raising taxes so much that it's off-putting to people that are thinking of moving here. We should be careful in the future to take of infastructure as needed - which it seems like we are now doing. I must admit, as someone who has had sewer back-ups, I'd love to see it fixed - for free.....but that isn't gonna happen.
digitalhermit April 17, 2012 at 02:22 PM
Wow, at that price ($10,000+ for every man, woman and child in WFB = $40,000 for a family of four) it may just be cheaper for us to put in a septic tank and disconnect from the sewer system entirely. That's the same as tuition for one child to attend Dominican High School for 4 years. Priorities!
WFB123 April 18, 2012 at 04:40 AM
This proposed zero-defect solution is impractically expensive. Let's apply the 80-20 rule: find the 20% solution that solves 80% of the problem. Then reassess in a decade or two.
Bob McBride April 25, 2012 at 11:21 PM
Let's spend some more money on studies to see if someone can come up with a different way of costing this thing out so it's even more outrageous, then put it to a vote and intimate that if we fix the sewers the chances of doing a district wide school renovation project similar to the one we did 2 years ago would be slim to none anytime in the foreseeable future. That should put this baby to rest.
Bob McBride April 26, 2012 at 11:43 AM
AWD, shouldn't you be working your entry for the "Win Dinner with Barack" contest? I live in a neighborhood where we've had two of these events in 12 years. In 2010, some residents experienced 3 of them in a matter of a month and a half. When was the last time a meteor hit WFB? It's a stupid, inaccurate analogy. The only thing more ridiculous than spending the $134MM on "500 year event" protection would be spending $108MM on protection that's essentially no better than what we have now. Thanks to the lateral project, that's the minimum we'll have to spend (at least according to this current iteration of the estimated costs) to prevent being even more vulnerable to storm water flooding than we are now.
tom sherman June 14, 2012 at 12:19 AM
i have already done something similar but much cheaper at say $100 or less. i urinate and defecate in holding tanks & then dumnp every 3 months in toilet. all i need is to be allowed to dump this an my other waste directly into a manhole which is within 300' of my house say 2x/yr. i don't need a 6k lateral. that is one reasons my water bill for the year is under $2. i no longer worry about toilet break downs. noise in the pipes or where to haook up my toilet or plumbing bill. y'all could try this with kitty litter bottles to start.

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