Council approves agreement that will bring largest water tower in Johnson County to Shawnee

WaterOne currently has six towers in Johnson County. The new tower in Shawnee would be the biggest in the county with a 3-million gallon tank.

By Jerry LaMartina

The Shawnee City Council on Monday approved an agreement with WaterOne allowing the utility to build a water tower with a 3 million-gallon tank — which would be Johnson County’s biggest — on the Public Works Service Center grounds at 18690 Johnson Drive.

WaterOne, Johnson County’s water utility, has over 425,000 area customers in 17 cities, Director of Production Michelle Wirth said in a presentation to the council.

The utility will pay for the entire cost of the project’s construction and maintenance, according to a Monday memo from Public Works Director Doug Whitacre to Interim City Manager Vicki Charlesworth. Related infrastructure will be completed before the tower is built and any improvements are made.

The project will cost WaterOne roughly $9.75 million to build — $8.25 million for the tower and tank and nearly $1.5 million for the pipeline system, said Mandy Cawby, the utility’s director of customer relations. WaterOne is nearly finished designing the tower and tank, and expects to finish the pipeline’s design by June.

Groundbreaking on the pipeline is slated for mid-to-late summer, with completion by October 2019, Cawby said. Tower construction is planned to start late this summer and be completed by May 2020. The utility plans to put the project out for bid by late spring for the tower and tank and sometime in the spring for the pipeline.

WaterOne will make no rental or lease payments to the city for the tower; the utility also makes no rental or lease payments for any of its existing facilities, Cawby said.

“WaterOne staff maintain that any rental or lease payment would only be an additional cost to the public, and that the proposed location of the tower results in a cost increase to WaterOne that exceeds $200,000,” according to the memo.

This figure is the additional amount the project will cost beyond what it would have cost at the originally proposed location, Cawby said. City staff and WaterOne discussed a proposal at the council’s Aug. 28, 2017, meeting to build a water tower along 47th Street west of Woodland Drive, behind Riverview Elementary School.

“WaterOne’s position is that the proposed location represents a public interest in resolving concerns of residents related to the prior sites under consideration, and that the provisions for relocation and some upgrades to City infrastructure, acquiring easements for the City fiber conduit and placement of the City fiber conduit, are reasonable compensation,” according to the memo. “The City continues to be able to fully use the site area, including that in the immediate proximity of the tower.”

Ward 3 councilmembers Stephanie Meyer and Justin Adrian opposed the measure. Adrian said after the meeting that the tower would be “an eyesore to the city.” Meyer agreed, and said she had been “frustrated with the entire process” because WaterOne had first approached officials at Unified School District No. 232 in DeSoto, not the council, to discuss possible tower locations.

Wirth said that elevated tanks were “typically located where it’s right-sized and right for the need of the system.” WaterOne considers the tower a “green solution” because it minimizes fuel storage and emissions in the absence of an on-site generator; uses less energy because it has no mechanical equipment that requires power; is quiet because it has no pumps or generator; and is “a low-cost alternative, as well, as far as cost of ownership.”

Because of the system’s redundancy to ensure normal functioning in case of a power outage, “this would sustain us during that power outage, to give and ensure that there is (adequate water) pressure throughout this area,” she said.

An underground tank and pipeline would cost about $3 million more than an elevated tank, Cawby said. WaterOne evaluated nine options among seven sites for both elevated and underground tanks before choosing the Public Works Service Center site.

WaterOne has six elevated water towers, two on-ground reservoir tanks with pumping stations and eight underground reservoirs with pumping stations in Johnson County, she said.

Ward 2 Councilman Eric Jenkins said that there was “a direct correlation between the cost for WaterOne and the cost for us as the customer, because if that cost is substantial, obviously they’ve got to pass it on to the consumers.”

“They’re not going to just write a check for it or something,” Jenkins said. “It’s going to be passed on.”

The city’s agreement with WaterOne requires that neither the city nor the utility may put signs, symbols or written text on the tower, other than WaterOne’s logo, without prior written consent of the utility’s general manager and Shawnee’s city manager.

When the tower’s construction is completed, the city will continue to be able to use areas under and surrounding it. If the city were to sell or transfer the property, then it would grant an easement to WaterOne to relocate the tower.

The memo stated that the agreement resolved problems associated with WaterOne’s placement of infrastructure in Leawood and Olathe. The utility has statutory authority to exercise eminent domain to buy a site and build the infrastructure.