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In the coming weeks, construction crews in Marana will begin building two water treatment facilities to purify the town’s drinking water in two systems contaminated with elevated levels of unregulated compounds 1,4-dioxane and PFAs.

However, the project has become more expensive than originally planned. During a council study session on Tuesday, Nov. 12, the Marana mayor and council approved a $1.1 million budget override proposed by the water utility.

A year ago, the Town of Marana joined the City of Tucson in a lawsuit against 3M and other companies that produced and sold aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), a firefighting product containing PFAs.

Although these chemicals are present in everyday products such as non-stick pans, the lawsuit singles out AFFF because Davis-Monthan Air Force Base has used the product for decades. Investigators determined that after being washed into local sewage system, the chemicals contaminated the local drinking water in Tucson as well as in Marana, where there is a sewage treatment facility.

The lawsuit seeks to collect reparations for the cost of “treating and removing contamination from public drinking water supply wells,” according to a prior news release.

Litigation is currently ongoing. Marana expects to recover a substantial amount of money from the lawsuit, which would ideally cover some of the $15 million loan the town took out from the Water Infrastructure Finance Authority of Arizona last year.

That money went toward the design and construction of the two water treatment campuses, which now need extra funds, according to Marana Water Director Scott Shladweiler. 

He said that after some cost mitigation performed by staff, the shortfall has been reduced to about $935,000. The budget override allows town staff to apply for a Drinking Water Revolving Fund loan from WIFA.

“The need is still approximately $935,000, but Marana Water will be requesting an additional loan from WIFA for up to $1.1M to allow for contingency,” said Marana Communications Manager Vic Hathaway. “Repayment is only necessary for the amount drawn on the loan.”

WIFA recently chose to allow forgivable principal on DWRF projects that “address a potential health threat.” This applies to the town’s water treatment project, however Schladweiler said WIFA would not allow the initial $15 million loan to have forgivable principal as well. He said the new loan could be forgiven by up to 47 percent.

Schladweiler said the new loan will cover general price escalation on materials, new well and drainage improvements that are required, additional roadway work needed to access the site, and increased capacity of the Lambert/Airline water treatment campus to accommodate future development and a proposed well in Saguaro Bloom to be built by home developer DR Horton.

“This is going to allow for continued growth out there without having to go back and reconstruct this later or add additional facilities within a short time,” Schladweiler said. 

The construction timeline shows completion of the treatment campuses is scheduled for June 2020.

While the budget request was approved unanimously by the council, some members expressed disappointment in the way the project has been handled.

Council member Roxanne Ziegler said this was a perfect example of “scope creep,” a term used to describe a project that continually changes and grows—controllably or uncontrollably—from its initial purpose.

Ziegler said the price tag of $1.5 million “is almost hard for me to stomach.

“This to me—not knowing anybody on the project or who priced this project, who went out and did not see these things—is almost like they did a half-assed job,” she said. “They should have seen some of this stuff.”

Schladweiler said the initial $15 million loan was conceptual and labeled as such when it was approved. He said some of the necessary improvements that came up are technical in nature and could not have been revealed until crews started working on the site.

Council member Dave Bowen said the situation was analogous to building a house where land acquisition and construction costs are estimated, but putting in window coverings, choosing flooring, furniture and so on will result in extra costs.

Schladweiler said the first loan was a rough estimate, and a more difficult one since this specific project has not been done in the region before. He said they looked at similar projects within the area when determining the cost, but the real numbers came out differently. 

“This is a changing market and as you get into the weeds, that is where the devil is in the details,” Schladweiler said.

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