Subcommittee wants independent contractor to study downtown Columbia infrastructure

Wednesday, April 16, 2014 | 10:47 p.m. CDT; updated 1:36 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 7, 2014

COLUMBIA — After weeks of analysis, the Downtown Columbia Leadership Council Infrastructure Subcommittee recommended an independent contractor review the city's infrastructure capacity.

The Downtown Columbia Leadership Council will review the recommendation Tuesday and decide whether to present it to Columbia City Council.

During its past two meetings, the subcommittee has received data and information about the existing capacity and needs of downtown Columbia from both current and former city staff members.

At Wednesday's meeting, Commission Chairman Brent Gardner said downtown leadership doesn't have the expertise to make sense of all the information and data on its own. The focus of the contractor's report would be an independent evaluation of the city's infrastructure needs and to find out when exactly downtown Columbia "ran out" of infrastructure.

"We don't know these things. ... I've gotten a strong enough view of all this that it's time to bring somebody else in," Gardner said.

At the April 2 subcommittee meeting, Public Works Director John Glascock and Columbia Water and Light Director Tad Johnsen detailed the capacity issues facing the electric and sewer utilities downtown. One week ago, retired Sewage Superintendent Bill Weitkemper explained that most of the city's sewer back-ups are the result of stormwater getting into the sanitary sewer.

On April 7, the council approved the use of $2.5 million for lining pipes to combat the problem. That, according to Weitkemper and Columbia Public Works staff, is only the beginning of a solution.

Johnsen said during the April 2 meeting that downtown Columbia has an electric capacity of 14 megawatts and usage peaks between 12 and 13 megawatts during the summer months. Capacity for the two recently approved student-housing projects — Collegiate Housing Partners and Opus Development Co. — will be provided by a new feeder line arriving from Rebel Hill substation, he said.

Another project — a 718-bed proposal from American Campus Communities — was tabled on March 19 by City Council for two months because the city wouldn't have the necessary additional five megawatts by its proposed August 2016 opening.

Gardner said an independent contractor could help downtown leadership understand why that single project would need five megawatts and the rest of downtown currently needs about 13 megawatts.

He also gave an update on the status of the American Campus Communities project. He said he spoke with Chuck Carroll, an executive with the company, Wednesday and the company plans to delay its timeline by a year.

The city plans to have more downtown electrical capacity by 2017 after building a feeder line from its Hinkson Creek substation, according to Johnsen.

He said the feeder line would cost $5 million and its construction was dependent on the construction of a new substation at Mill Creek, which would free up capacity at the Hinkson Creek substation. The new substation would cost an estimated $34 million, he said.

The two projects would be part of a November bond issue. The entire scope of the bond issue hasn't been finalized and still needs City Council approval.

Hiring an independent contractor to review infrastructure was among several topics the subcommittee wants the entire downtown leadership to discuss at its Tuesday meeting.

Other topics included:

  • Setting a date for a public input meeting about infrastructure.
  • Inviting representatives from the Downtown Community Improvement District to a subcommittee meeting to talk about ways to finance infrastructure projects, including a possible contribution from the Downtown Community Improvement District's sales tax revenue.
  • Overhauling zoning for downtown ahead of the two-year timeline for the rest of the city. The city has hired two independent contractors, Clarion Associates and Ferrell Madden, for the project. 

The City Council voted unanimously during its April 7 meeting to have downtown leadership write a report defining types of infrastructure and the city's needs based on projected population growth.

Supervising editor is Elise Schmelzer.

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