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Water authority gets $30.9M for Bellwood projects

Loans will fund renovations to dam, water treatment plant

Pennvest on Wednesday awarded the Altoona Water Authority $30.9 million in low-interest loans to renovate the Bellwood dam and the water treatment plant below it.

The authority, which has been planning the projects for several years, received a permit from the Department of Environmental Protection for the plant renovation several months ago and one for the dam renovation several weeks ago.

The authority is undertaking the $21 million dam project under pressure from DEP, because its spillway is severely undersized, posing a risk in the event of a major storm. The authority is undertaking the $9.9 million plant project because it’s nearing the end of its projected life, so it makes sense to do the work while the reservoir behind the dam is empty.

Before any work can start, the authority must complete an upgrade of the outdated ozone system at the Tipton reservoir, because the authority needs to rely on Tipton to make up the shortfall when the Bellwood facilities are offline.

The Tipton work won’t be finished until around the end of this year, so the Bellwood work won’t begin in earnest — except for prep work below the dam — until next year, Perry said.

Because the dam renovation will take two years, while the plant renovation will take a year or less, the plant work won’t begin until 2023, he predicted.

It would be counterproductive to complete the plant renovation before the dam renovation is complete.

The plant renovation includes filter testing, requiring water that would not be easily available, along with starting the clock on warranties, Perry said.

Moreover, if the new plant filters are tested, and then must sit idle, they would need to be disinfected.

The dam and plant projects are expected to be complete around the end of 2023, Perry guessed.

For the dam, a new spillway must be constructed in a different location. The current one must remain in place through the project for safety’s sake, as a storm could fill the emptied reservoir quickly, according to authority officials.

The current spillway is built on bedrock, which is ideal, but the new one will need to be built over the earthen section of the dam.

The dam project “involves a very complex design,” DEP southcentral office spokes­man John Repetz has said.

The Bellwood dam project was originally estimated to cost about $12 million, while the Bellwood treatment plant project was estimated to cost about $7 million.

Inflation accounts for much of that increase, authority consulting engineer Mark Glenn of Gwin, Dobson & Foreman has said.

Other issues that added to the costs included unexpected geotechnical work, extra engineering, the need to anchor the dam in the area where the bedrock isn’t available and added work involving a drain system, drilling and grouting, and silt work, according to Perry and Glenn.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

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