The Fort Smith Board of Directors approved on Tuesday (Feb. 5) the hiring of 10 additional water and sewer department employees to allow the city to have more teams available to repair the 700 leaks now in need of attention.
The new employees will join the 17 employees of the department to make up nine three-person teams working to fix the leaks as well as taking care of any new leaks reported to the department, said Jerry Walters, utilities director. The goal is to be caught up on the leaks in 18 months, Walters said.
After completing the backlog of leaks, the team will continue to repair new leaks, perform preventative maintenance on the water system, and replace 600 broken meter boxes. Maintenance will include “unidirectional flushing of the 720 miles of water lines and a yearly valve exercising program for the 6,637 valves in the water system” as well as work to detect unknown leaks in the system, Walters said.
“These are the biggest concern to us, the leaks underground that are not known to us,” Walters said. “We can use the teams to do research on these and determine how much of problem we have.”
Along with getting caught up on leaks that have plagued the utility department for an extended period of time, the additional personnel, which will cost the city $409,310 annually along with one-time cost of $350,700 for additional equipment, the additional workers will reduce costs, according to the city
Repairing the leaks with in-house personnel rather than outsourcing will save approximately $2 million, Walters said. This savings will be added to the yearly savings of paying a contractor to prevent future leak backlogs and replacement of failed valves due to lack of a maintenance program. In addition there is a potential of savings due to reduction of water loss, Walters added.
“In 2017, the water distribution system experienced a water loss of 28.7%. Meters that were changed as part of the meter replacement program show that the meters under register by approximately 14.6%. This means that 14.1 % of the 10.8 billion gallons of water produced by the water treatment plants was lost through water leaks,” Walters noted in a memo to the board.
The board voted 7-0 to approve the extra personnel and equipment. During discussion, Ward 3 Director Mike Lorenz said t along with regular updates to the board, the utility department needed to have a list of all leaks and their estimated date of repair and all repaired leaks on the utility department website in order to keep residents of Fort Smith informed and keep the process transparent. Walters said plans were underway to do that.
“I love the idea that we are taking a very proactive, aggressive approach to getting our infrastructure repaired and updated. That’s good. That’s an indication of who we are and what we are trying to do for the system,” said Mayor George McGill.
In other business, the board approved to changes in zoning to property on Newlon Road and Wells Lake Road. The board unanimously passed an ordinance to rezone 4105 Newlon Road from Residential Single Family-Duplex Medium/High Density to Transitional by classification in order to build a medical clinic on the property, which is near OK Foods. The clinic, Premiere Health, will serve employees of OK Foods.
They also passed an ordinance to rezone 7700 Wells Lake Road to Residential Single Family Medium/High Density with a conditional use for River Valley Community Church. The church will be 10,193 square feet with 248 seats and 65 parking spaces and include an outdoor amphitheater and landscaping.