Fluoride costs top projections

By Jerry Needham

Fluoridation of San Antonio's water has been put off for another eight months after the lowest bid for constructing the new system came in at more than twice the original estimates, officials said Tuesday.

As a result, SAWS and the Bexar Metropolitan Water District have developed a joint venture and will serve as prime contractor for the project, said Eugene Habiger, president and CEO of the San Antonio Water System.

"We were very dissatisfied with the bids we received from outside contractors for this system," he said.

After reviewing the options for the project, SAWS decided that the best way to contain costs while maintaining quality was to use in-house construction teams, he said. Some elements of the project will be contracted out.

SAWS had planned to have the system in place by Feb. 1. Bexar Met wanted to be on line later in 2002.

Under the new plan, SAWS is expecting its system to be phased in, operating in August.

"The installation date for us might be a little later," said Chuck Ahrens, a spokesman for Bexar Met, which supplies water to about 14 percent of San Antonians.

The City Council adopted an ordinance requiring fluoridation of all water supplied to San Antonio residents after 52.6 percent of the voters backed fluoridation in a November 2000 referendum.

Initial estimates were that the system's installation would cost SAWS about $2 million and Bexar Met about $700,000, but the estimate for both has risen to $3.3 million.

SAWS and Bexar Met jointly sought bids in September and drew one bid of $5.59 million, which was rejected.

A readvertised bid in late October that extended the deadline for completion from January to August drew two bids from New Braunfels companies. One was for $8.27 million, the other for $6.87 million.

The costly bids again were rejected, and the agreement was reached between SAWS and Bexar Met, Habiger said.

"Fluoridation is a very important project to the community," he said. "As part of the community, SAWS and Bexar Met are committed to ensuring that not only do we make the best use of the ratepayers' monies for this project, but that we also build a system that is well-constructed, safe, reliable, secure, and can be easily maintained. We're going to make sure that happens."

The Texas Department of Health has approved plans for the fluoridation system. Bids will be put out for purchase of the fluoridation equipment needed for the system.

SAWS and Bexar Met personnel will form a joint venture construction team that will construct the facilities for the 27 SAWS pumping stations and seven Bexar Met stations.

The SAWS board is to receive a project plan and revised budget at its Dec. 4 meeting.