Preparations to build a new water treatment plant for the city of Aiken, S.C., are moving forward.
Aiken City Manager Stuart Bedenbaugh discussed the plans for the facility during a Sept. 14 virtual meeting with Aiken business leaders and in a later interview with the Aiken Standard.
The project will replace "our main water treatment plant, which was built in 1954 and is nearing the end of its useful life," Bedenbaugh said.
The existing facility is near Shaws Creek at 1738 Columbia Highway North, also known as U.S. Highway 1.
In late August, the city purchased 29.3 acres at 1754 Columbia Highway North for $215,000 with the intent of building the new water treatment plant at that site.
The construction project is something that the Aiken City Council "has been planning for several years," Bedenbaugh said.
He added the city brought in Goodwyn Mills Cawood, an architecture and engineering firm based in Augusta, Ga., as a consultant to assess whether it was possible to renovate the old facility or build a new one.
"And then [we found] it was cheaper to build new than to renovate an operating water plant," Bedenbaugh explained, adding the cost of the new plant would be "plus or minus about $35 million" and that its lifespan would be 60 to 70 years.
"Water plants are not an inexpensive proposition to undertake, but this is a necessary one as we look to grow this community," Bedenbaugh said. "We're fortunate in this area that we have very good and adequate sources of water for business, industry and our residents. The quality of water that comes out of the ground and out of the creeks is very good. We don't have to spend as much on treatment as other utilities around the state, and we want to continue to make sure that continues to be the case."
He added that about 15 percent of the water for Aiken's customer base comes from the existing plant, and Shaws Creek is the primary source. On the south side of town, consumers use wells to source most their water.
The Aiken City Council "over the last few years has been very clear that one of the things we need to address is our existing infrastructure," Bedenbaugh said. "We also need to plan for the future. I think the new water treatment plant is one of the keystone projects for that, to set us up long after most of us are gone."
He estimated that the start of the plant's construction is "about 2 to 2½ years away if everything falls into place with City Council approvals."
Meanwhile, the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) is planning to replace the four-lane bridge over Shaws Creek on Columbia Highway North.
Right-of-way acquisitions are scheduled to begin at the end of 2020, with construction scheduled to begin in late 2022.
"We are in some preliminary discussions [with SCDOT]," Bedenbaugh said. "As they rebuild the bridge on U.S. Highway 1, we potentially could build the new water treatment plant concurrent with the bridge reconstruction to minimize the disruption and flow of traffic."
The SCDOT's plans call for the bridge to remain open to U.S. 1 traffic during construction. But the structure will be "temporarily narrowed to one lane in each direction with reduced shoulders," according to the agency.
In mid-September, Aiken County Council approved the second reading of an ordinance that would allow the city of Aiken to expand its water and sanitary sewer services district north of Interstate 20 along Columbia Highway North and SC Highway 19, known locally as the Edgefield Highway.
"Our growth pattern ultimately is going to be in that direction," Bedenbaugh said.