A legal settlement allows the city to move forward with repairing the reservoir, which suffered from leakage.

COURTESY PHOTO: CITY OF ST. HELENS - Testing takes place at the Pittsburg Road reservoir.St. Helens officials say they've reached a settlement that will allow for repairs to a 2 million-gallon water reservoir rehabilitation project on PIttsburg Road.

In April, the city government reached a settlement with Western Partition Inc. that allows St. Helens to move forward with repairing the faulty reservoir, with a goal of putting it back in service by fall next year. The reservoir has sat empty for more than four years, officials say.

Officials are currently working with the forensic and structural engineers of Walker Consultants, of Seattle, on the best repair alternatives for the reservoir.

"This timeframe will allow the forensic and structural engineers of Walker Consultants to complete their full investigation of the reservoir and provide the city with recommendations for repair," a news release states.

It will also allow for the development of the repair/rehabilitation construction documents and the public procurement and contracting processes.

Officials expect to award the contract to repair the reservoir this year, "but because of the impact of wet weather conditions in the fall and winter, it is not advisable to begin repair of the underground structure until the following year, in the drier months," the release adds.

In 2017, St. Helens contracted with Western Partition to install a liner membrane that was intended to address leaks in the city-owned reservoir.

But, as the news release puts it, "after installation, the reservoir's leakage rate increased dramatically."

Efforts to repair the liner were unsuccessful, city officials say, and they were ultimately abandoned. That leaves St. Helens with a reservoir it can't use and a contract that wasn't fulfilled.

Mouhamad Zaher took over as St. Helens' public works director in late 2020. The reservoir dispute was among several challenges he inherited when he took the job.

Zaher told the Spotlight that without water, the reservoir is not just idle, it's vulnerable. It could be destroyed by fire, as an example.

"I decided to take this specific project personally and lead efforts to take it to a successful outcome," Zaher said.

Zaher sought approval from the city administrator and council.

"They were extremely supportive and encouraged me to really run with this project," Zaher added, noting that the original cost of the project was $475,000.

The settlement amount of $600,000 allows City Hall to recover the cost of what it spent for the project.

"This is money we received which will fully pay for the entire project," Zaher said. "We were able to recoup this cost to fix the project without spending any penny from the city budget."

He added, "It's a great win because I was able to avoid going into litigation in court, which could have cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars with no guaranteed outcome."

One resident of St. Helens who has been critical of the way city leaders have handled the reservoir repairs is Ron Trommlitz, who lives near the reservoir.

"The big thing that really upsets me again, still, is that nothing was done since April 2019," Trommlitz said, pointing to that month as the time by which Western Partition abandoned its efforts to fix the liner.

Trommlitz asked rhetorically: "What has taken the city so long to get to the settlement point?"

"Now they're claiming that they can't do anything until 2023, when they've had two years of the driest summers previously and nothing was ever done," Trommlitz continued. "So, I would like to know why was there this big delay. They should have immediately put this case in court and had it settled at least two years ago."

Trommlitz said that in his view, "the city is sharing some kind of complicity" in the failure of the reservoir repairs back in 2017. He said he plans to continue his efforts to press city officials for an explanation.

Zaher responded to Trommlitz' comment by saying, "I am very appreciative for concerned citizens, as always … I do respect his personal opinion. However, I disagree with his comments. Ron is not familiar with the litigation process."

Zaher said the settlement specifically avoids court, and the dispute with the contractor has been resolved.

"The court would actually have taken a lot longer to get this problem fixed," Zaher said.

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