WILMETTE – The Chicago engineering firm MWH-Stantec will perform a value engineering review of a proposed sewer project to bring flooding relief to residents of west Wilmette. The Village Board approved a contract with MWH for $114,933 at a meeting on January 24.
The sewer project proposed by Christopher B. Burke includes adding capacity to the existing sewer system west of Ridge Road by adding 44,000 feet of new sewer pipe at a proposed cost of at least $77 million.
“I am really comfortable that this is the logical and the correct next step, if we are spending $77 million. I think as stewards of the taxpayers money we owe it to the community to get an opinion and give it a reality check,” Trustee Cameron Krueger said.
Director of Engineering and Public Works Brigitte Berger told the board that MWH would conduct a value engineering study of Burke’s proposal to insure this project was the best option. “Our over-arching goal is to provide the village board and the Wilmette residents who suffer from flooding unwavering confidence in the Christopher Burke report. We want to deliver a project that we know will be reliable and that we can built for the dollar value that we ultimately give to you,” Berger said.
Berger said she has confidence in MWH’s ability to provide an accurate independent review. In a memo dated January 24 to the board Berger noted that MWH is familiar with Wilmette’s sewer system — having made recommendations to the village in 2009 regarding sewer back-ups — and has also worked with neighboring communities on the North Shore.
While Berger noted the firm’s experience with neighboring Winnetka, she did not provide any specific details. In Winnetka, MWH’s own cost estimates came under fire. In 2011 MWH proposed a stormwater tunnel under Willow Road that was ultimately rejected by the Winnetka village council in September 2015 due to run away costs. Winnetka trustees jettisoned the project after an independent cost analysis concluded MWH had under-estimated the project’s cost by over $22 million. Winnetka has since hired Strand Associates to develop alternative solutions for its flooding problems.
Initially, MWH will conduct a technical review which will determine whether Burke’s data collection was reliable and adequate. MWH will review for alternative proposals, essentially identifying changes to the project that could lower the cost but deliver the same results. Additionally, MWH will review the cost of the project — perhaps the most important step given residents skepticism over the high price tag — analyzing the methods, assumptions and calculations used to develop the cost estimate.
Once those initial three reviews are complete, MWH will draft a report which is expected to be presented to the Municipal Services Committee in late May or early June. At that point, the village will have a good sense whether Burke’s proposal is the best option.
If the village decides that Burke’s proposal is a viable solution, then MWH will conduct a value engineering review. “That is an intense workshop where will invite village staff, construction experts, members of the water and sewer teams and we are going to overturn every stone possible on how we can make this project better, more efficient and cost effective,” Berger said. That report is expected to be presented to the board by August.
President Bob Bielinski acknowledged that while some residents are anxious for the project to start, an independent review is an important step in the process. “This is a community wide discussion and we need buy in from the entire community,” he said.