Village Center Drive project up for decision

When the directors of the Idyllwild Water District met last week, perhaps the imminent snow storm or the joy of the atmospheric river filling Foster Lake limited their attention. But with only two items on the agenda, they deferred action on both until March. Further, they never discussed, at least in an open session, district goals, which had been promised at the Feb. 13 special meeting.

General Manager Michael Creighton, after one month in the job, recommended that the board postpone the pipeline project along Village Center Drive. One year ago, former General Manager Jack Hoagland had recommended that this was IWD’s number one capital project priority.

Although the existing pipeline is old, the principle reason to move it along was that Riverside County was planning to resurface Village Center Drive in the summer of 2019. In order to avoid damaging a newly surfaced street and incurring extra costs for repaving, Hoagland recommended installing the new pipeline along Village Center Drive in September 2018.

For a variety of reasons, the work was never put out for bid. Since the county still plans to repave the street either just before or just after the Fourth of July, Creighton did not think there was sufficient time for IWD to request bids, review them, select a contractor and complete the work before the county began its work. 

While the pipeline is 60 years old, there have been few leaks in this area, Creighton told the board. The leak history has been very good, he added.

“We should delay until there is time to prepare, and also look at other priority projects we can do,” Creighton said. “We can replace older service lines and still get cross training on less busy streets.”

However, the directors were not convinced and asked Creighton to ask the county to postpone its project. Also, he was directed to contact Fern Valley Water District about the possibility of a joint pipeline project. FVWD is planning a major pipeline project this summer and has discussed it at recent meetings.

Leading the opposition to deferral was Director David Hunt.

“What concerns me is this was our first priority. The engineering is already good,” he said. “What really concerns me is the age and location of the pipe.” 

Since this pipeline serves Strawberry Creek Plaza, Hunt wants to ensure that the possibility of disrupting businesses due to leaks from the older pipe would be minimized. “It would be catastrophic,” he concluded and asked Creighton to negotiate with Riverside County.

He also noted that FVWD was seeking bids on a pipeline project. “If we work with them, perhaps we get a better deal.”

Director Steve Kunkle, who originally opposed priority of the project, said, “There are more important areas, but we could appeal to the county to delay their work.”

Consequently, President Dr. Charles “Chip” Schelly recommended that a decision be tabled until the March meeting. At that time, Creighton should have more information for the board about the county’s and FVWD’s views.

The second action item was approval of a stipend for employees who live within 6 miles of IWD. Since Idyllwild is a resort location, housing is generally more expensive than the closest urban areas, such as Banning or Hemet, Creighton told the board.

He offered two options as an incentive for employees to live close to the district. One would be a monthly $400 stipend and the other would be a one-time payment of $4,000.

The directors all seemed supportive of the idea, but felt there were some questions, which should be addressed before approving it. For example, would it apply to all employees, or just field staff who are on call, which is Kunkle’s preference. Whether part-time or summer help would be included, was another question. The board also asked Creighton to set the monthly stipend at $350.

“I think it is a really good idea, especially after this weather,” Hunt stated.

Schelly said he has been a long-time proponent of the idea. “Its purpose is to attract people here within the geographic boundary of the Hill. It’s more expensive to live here and this offsets that with a stipend.”

Again Schelly asked Creighton to follow up with a more specific and definitive proposal for the March meeting. While he was willing to wait a month to see a complete policy, Schelly added, “I want this to go forward and I’m tired of waiting.”

In other business, Creighton reported that both the Lily Creek weir and granulated activated carbon plant projects were near completion. The metering system for the weir should be installed by the end of March. 

On the business side, IWD’s water sales for January were about $2,700 less than the monthly expenses of $121,100. But the sewer fund posted a $1,600 net gain.

During January, water production was 7.6 million gallons, which was 1.7 million greater than production in January 2018. The unaccounted-for water was 9.5 percent of total production, Creighton estimated.

The groundwater levels of the district wells, especially at Foster Lake, have been rising this year, especially in the past month. At Foster Lake, the well level was 26 feet in December and rose to 13 feet in January, before the February rains and snows.