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Work to begin on Bigfork Bay sewer project this month

by MACKENZIE REISS
Bigfork Eagle | March 3, 2021 2:40 AM

Construction crews will break ground on the $4 million Bigfork Bay Sewer Project on March 15, launching a multi-phase effort to replace the sewer main that runs along the shoreline with a new line on safer ground along Osborn Avenue. Kalispell-based firm LHC will perform the work and crews will be in action from mid-March through Labor Day weekend, at which point construction will pause for the busy summer season before ramping back up in late August or early September.

The existing sewer main runs close to the shoreline and poses safety and maintenance challenges, in addition to being plagued with bellies that collect grease from the many downtown restaurants. To keep the main from overflowing, it must be cleaned twice each year for a total cost of $16,000 and accessing the line is challenging given the density of shoreline development.

“Many years ago, you could drive a pickup all the way round the bay -- there was a road that went around -- but that’s cut off now,” said Julie Spencer, district manager for the Bigfork Water and Sewer District. “You used to be able to get in there and inspect and clean, but you can't do that anymore.”

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Crews will install a new sewer line along Osborn Avenue starting mid-March, weather allowing. Mackenzie Reiss/Bigfork Eagle

Abandoning the current line and installing a new main on Osborn will reduce the risk of overflow into the bay and greatly improve ease of access for maintenance. New service line pumps will also be installed west of Electric Avenue to transport wastewater to the new main.

Work will begin on Bridge Street, where crews will install a lift station that will be used to transport sewage uphill to the main line. They will then place a new sewer line on Bridge Street and Osborn Avenue, working toward Cascade Avenue and the alley that runs behind the ImagineIF Library Bigfork and Persimmon Gallery.

Jeff Cicon, project manager and civil engineer with Morrison-Maierle said the construction will be noisey and noted that crews have been approved to work from 7 a.m.-7 p.m.

“If they do work outside of that range it would require permission from Bigfork Water and Sewer,” Cicon explained. “They did express some interest in working weekends to try and get ahead, so there may be Saturdays and Sundays when they are working during the day.”

Road closures will also be in place periodically throughout the project, but Cicon said the exact time and duration will be project-dependent.

“We don't know the specifics of what will be closed when throughout this, just know that Bridge Street, Osborn and River Street will be closed periodically throughout the project,” he said. “We made sure that we have access available, foot traffic, to all the businesses as best we can. There’s only so much we can do -- there isn’t a lot of room and it’s large equipment -- so we’ll do the best we can. We just ask that the public be patient.”

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Crews will install a new sewer line along Osborn Avenue starting mid-March, weather allowing. Mackenzie Reiss/Bigfork Eagle

Spencer added that crews will be spraying the streets with water to keep dust levels to a minimum.

There are no planned service disruptions anticipated at this time, but Cicon said there is a chance crews may run into something unexpected. The records of the current line aren’t very good, he said, although they did run a camera through the current line on Osborn to get an initial picture of what lies beneath the pavement.

“Unless they find something unforeseen that we’re not anticipating, which is entirely possible, then they will bypass [the old line] and be able to maintain service,” Cicon said. If crews do identify an issue that requires a planned pause in service, they are required to notify the impacted business or residence 48 hours in advance.

The project won’t necessitate a rate hike outside of the normal 5% annual increase, which took effect March 1. The project will be paid for thanks to a series of grants and a $2.04 million Water Pollution Control State Revolving Fund Program loan, which will be paid back over 20 years, Spencer said.

This fall, crews will begin work on the Electric Avenue side of the project and may return the following spring if need be. For the latest updates on the project, members of the public can sign up for alerts by visiting Bigfork Water and Sewer District’s website, www.bigforkwater.com.