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Whately turns to new engineer for Mill River Stabilization project

WHATELY — The town is coming closer to hiring a new engineer to come up with a plan to save the Whately water district.

The Water Commissioners and Board of Selectmen are negotiating a contract with Inter-Fluve, a company with a local office based in Cambridge specializing in river stabilization and water control.

If hired, the engineering company would be responsible for creating a 30 percent design plan to stabilize the Mill River, which is threatening to overtake the two wells that provide drinking water to 225 residents. Inter-Fluve is the only company to bid on the project.

The wells supplying the Whately Water Department have been jeopardized since several significant storms in the last two years altered the dynamics of the river by changing the direction of its water flow, forcing it into the banks near the two wells and eroding the banks.

As the water rushed up the banks, it also knocked down the 17-foot sheet-piles, a barrier driven into the ground that were intended to support the bank of the river. The town now hopes a new design intended to fix the eroded bank and failing sheet-piles will protect Whately’s water system.

Inter-Fluve will be a new direction for the town since it fired its last engineer for the project, Huntley Associates, P.C, of Northampton, in June. The town paid Huntley $25,000 to complete a design in April 2011. However, a year later, town officials were still waiting for a proposal.

The town is ready to move ahead with Inter-Fluve, but cost remains a sticking point.

The engineer has proposed the project will cost $28,000 to get the town up to the 30 percent design phase. The final design cost is estimated at $86,000.

The Board of Selectmen, however, are hoping the engineers will bring down the 30 percent design price to $25,000.

According to Town Administrator Lynn Sibley, some of Inter-Fluve’s proposal includes redoing work already completed by the town and its previous engineer. This includes studies evaluating endangered species —winged monkey flowers, mussels and box turtles — in the river.

“We need to work with [Inter-Fluve] to determine whether they have to start from scratch or use the previous material,” Sibley said.

The town’s discussions do not yet include the permitting process. It will need permits from the state Department of Environmental Protection, the Army Corps of Engineers and the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.

To guide the town through discussions with the engineer, Gary Lawrence, a resident, will serve as liaison or “clerk of works” between the engineer and town.

The town, however, does not have the money yet available to fund the project. Sibley said the town is waiting for the state Department of Revenue to certify this year’s “free cash” surplus, the amount of which is unknown at this point.

If the town strikes a deal with Inter-Fluve, construction may begin as early as next summer once the permits are acquired and final designs are completed.

Kathleen McKiernan can be reached at kmckiernan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261 ext. 268.

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