By Nikki Jamieson
Sunny South News
Lethbridge County council approved additional funds for the Monarch Water Tower Demolition project after the discovery of hazardous materials in the structure.
During the regular Sept. 17 meeting, council had received a report on the tender for the demolition of the Monarch Water tower.
In 2018, upgrades were completed for the Monarch Water Reservoir and Pump Station project, and the old water tower was disconnected and taken offline.
During 2019 budget deliberations, the old water tower was presented as a Utility Capital Project, with the vacant land to be subdivided into five lots, serviced and eventually sold as residential properties. In the county’s 2020 Budget, demolition for the water tower’s demolition was budgeted at $100,000 from the Utility Reserve. During their July 23 council meeting, council had approved an additional $155,000 due to additional work having to be done for the project, for a total project cost of $255,000.
The project has since been tendered and the results presented to the county on Sept. 14. However, during the tendering phase, some contracters inquired about whether some materials may contain asbestos or the paint being lead based. Asbestos and lead testing was conducted, and it was found that a small amount of asbestos was contained within the caulking, and as well the underlying layer of paint on the tower contains lead, which led to higher than anticipated bids.
“There was a small amount of asbestos found in the caulking, but the big thing that we did find was the underlying layer of paint on the tower was lead-based. If you are familiar with that, it is a blue tower. That blue paint isn’t lead-based, but the underlying layers are a red paint underlying layer and a white paint, and one of those layers does definitely contain lead, which does increase the contractor’s responsibilities regarding demolition and disposal of those materials,” said Devon Thiele, infrastructure manager for the county.
Three bids had come in, all over budget for the demolition. Administration was asking that council approve an additional $81,000 for the Monarch Water Tower Demolition for a total project cost of $336,000 funded from the Utility Reserve. The current reserve balance to date is $3,117,493.
Alternatively, council could choose to cancel the project and defer it to future years. However, there is no guarantee that it would result in lower and may result in higher costs.
“As the water tower will eventually need to be demolished, it would be beneficial to do it now. Deferral to future years would likely result in higher prices.”
Reeve Lorne Hickey asked how the contractors would deal with the lead, and if its removal would be a risk for nearby residents. Thiele was not sure how the contractor would deal with the lead paint, but couldn’t see them sandblasting it on site as it would become airborne, and believed it would be dealt with offsite.
Coun. Klass Vander Veen expressed dissatisfaction over the large increases in the budget for the project.
“I find this a ridiculous amount of money we have to spend, especially at this time,” said Vander Veen, adding they have other things that need to be done as well. “(Selling five lots), it doesn’t nearly cover the costs to take the tower down, and personally, I don’t think the time is right right now to spend this amount of money to do this.”
Coun. Morris Zeinstra agreed it was a ridiculous amount of money, however, he didn’t think they can hold back on the project.
“That tower is probably going to start deteriorating, and there’s going to be somewhere in the future then, if we hold back, we’re going to be forced to do it and it could be a lot more money,” said Zeinstra.
The engineering costs for taking the tower down were also a matter of concern to Zeinstra, as he believed that when the tower was transported 30 years ago from Taber the costs were “fairly minimal”.
Hickey agreed that the longer they wait, “the bigger the liability becomes,” and expressed concern about its state. Thiele said he believed it was originally in the capital budget for 2024, but while they still likely have a few years before the need becomes urgent to take it down, construction prices will likely go up.
“In an economic downturn, you’ll see prices drop, but typically they only increase over time,” said Thiele.
Council passed a motion to approve an additional $81,000 for the Monarch Water Tower Demolition for a total project cost of $336,000 funded from the Utility Reserve, in a split 6-1 vote. Vander Veen was the sole vote against.