$44M for water plan proposed

Arakawa budget targets infrastructure projects
By ILIMA LOOMIS – Staff Writer (iloomis@mauinews.com)
WAILUKU – The county would budget nearly $44 million on water infrastructure projects, an increase of more than $20 million from current spending, under Mayor Alan Arakawa’s proposal for 2012.

Department of Water Supply Director Dave Taylor told council Budget and Finance Committee members Thursday that he knew the plan was ambitious, but the projects being proposed were considered his department’s highest priorities. He pledged to bring to the water department the same system for planning and managing capital improvement projects that he used as wastewater chief to get that division’s infrastructure work on track.

He said his department could be turned into a “machine” to churn out capital improvement projects.

“I don’t know if I’m going to catch up this year, but I have no doubt if we have this conversation two years from now, you’re going to say, ‘Wow. You’re a CIP machine.’ “

Council members expressed some confidence in Taylor based on his record of handling sewer projects for the county. But they remained daunted by the sheer amount of money being requested for water infrastructure and doubted the department’s ability to complete all the projects.

Council Member Riki Hokama noted Taylor’s request could double the department’s borrowing in 2012.

“Tell me why I should not be concerned right now,” he said.

Taylor said long-term debt was the most reasonable way to pay for infrastructure expected to last at least 20 years, and he added that all the projects being requested were essential to keep the county’s water system functioning.

“I feel pretty confident these projects have to be done,” he said. “It’s just a question of are we going to do them this year, next year or three years from now. There’s just no way we can continue to operate this system for the next 10 years without taking care of this.”

Some major projects being requested by the department include:

* $10 million for rehabilitation of the Waikamoi flume. Taylor noted the rickety, leaking wooden flume that “looks like 1930s, Gilligan’s island technology,” is a critical source of Upcountry water.

“We have no idea how much water we’re losing from this,” he said. “It may be very significant.”

* $200,000 for Paia-Haiku water distribution line improvements. Taylor said Paia especially has aging waterlines that have frequent breaks. “When we have these breaks, everybody loses service, and Hana Highway gets backed up while our repair trucks are out there,” he said.

* $2.3 million for Wailuku-Kahului source improvements. Taylor said a high priority was to complete the replacement of the county’s “Shaft 33” well, which supplies 5 million gallons per day to Central Maui. The 65-year-old well was designed with a single pump operating at the bottom of a 647-foot-long tunnel. The department is developing three new wells that would tap into the same water source to replace Shaft 33.

“We need to get this shaft out of service as soon as possible,” Taylor said. “Because if it goes down it will be very difficult and expensive to fix, and we’re going to be out of water while it’s being fixed.”

* $10 million for unspecified water source development. Taylor said the money was not marked for a specific project but was a “place holder” that would allow the county to buy a private well or water source if the opportunity arose.

“If we the county and the County Council decide to acquire an existing source, there is money to do that,” he said. “If not, we don’t spend the money.”

Council members listened to Taylor’s presentation Thursday but were dubious about his department’s ability to complete all the projects. Many said the Department of Water Supply had a poor track record of following through on infrastructure, and were reluctant to authorize more borrowing – and water rate increases – if the department was not going to deliver on its promises.

“I’m hoping this is not all show and no go, because you’re pretty slick,” said council Chairman Danny Mateo. “I have a hell of a lot of skepticism until we see something definitive, and your ability to talk is just that – talk.”

“You’ve got a long way to go,” said Budget Chairman Joe Pontanilla. “We’ve allowed the department millions and millions of dollars, but we don’t see the projects being done on a timely basis.”

Taylor, who served as the county’s Wastewater Reclamation Division chief until he was appointed by Arakawa to the water department in January, cited his previous record in managing and completing sewer infrastructure projects.

He also noted that the department’s engineers for managing capital improvements had been at 50 percent staffing for years but now were at 100 percent, giving the county the manpower needed to complete the projects.

“I think the skepticism comment is deserved,” he said. “I am saying these things, and I’m going to have to produce.”

He said he had already begun to implement the project management system he had used successfully while managing the wastewater division, and hoped to deliver a detailed multiyear plan for water projects, borrowing, spending and scheduled rate increases by 2012.

Water department staff members are “incredibly cooperative and on board” with the plan, he said.

While the department should begin to see progress in its capital improvement schedule within two years, Taylor said he expected it would be at least three years before the department’s work on projects was back on track.

“We’re bringing a tried-and- true method,” he said. “It will work if we stick with it. It’s not magic. It’s standard project management.”

Council Member Mike Victorino sounded receptive.

“I like where you’re going,” he said. “If you don’t accomplish it, we’ll probably take you out to Waikamoi and hang you upside-down from the flume . . . but all joking aside, I really believe what you’re doing will be beneficial for the county.”

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