Sturgis: Albarran sworn in; dam work approved 

Sturgis city clerk/treasurer Ken Rhodes, right, administers the oath of office Wednesday to Alan Albarran, the city commission's new appointee. (Photo by Dan Cherry for Watershed Voice)

The Sturgis City Commission welcomed its newest member Wednesday with a swearing-in ceremony at the beginning of its meeting.

Alan Albarran was administered the oath of office as a new commissioner by clerk Ken Rhodes. Albarran was appointed last month to fill the seat left vacant by Brandon Kinsey. Albarran will serve as an appointee through November 2024, when the seat will be open for general election.

The city commission also approved an appointment to the city’s planning commission, which currently has two vacancies. 

The city received one application from Buddy Denman, an engineer who also has interest in a downtown building. The planning commission reviewed and expressed support for his appointment.

Sturgis hydro-electric dam

Two change order requests related to the Sturgis hydro-electric dam near Centreville and the city’s public utilities station were also approved, following discussion about the projects and costs of the changes.

Over the course of the year Hydro Consulting and Maintenance Services (HCMS) has been working on the overhaul of hydro units 3 and 4, which was approved by the city commission in June of 2022. The overhaul included work to generating units, as well as hydraulic control equipment and replacement of system controls. The units were brought back online in August; however, two issues discovered during the final phases of work have led to requested change orders on the project.

The first change order was for correcting a problem with the system’s outboard bearing seals. The original bearing design discharges 15 to 20 gallons per minute of water per bearing to a drain pit, which has a 50-gallon capacity. In the event of a power outage, there could be an overflow and subsequent flooding in the site’s generation building.

The proposal called for two seals and housings, one for each unit, that would force the water to exit through the inner side of the bearing to the river. That would result in a reduction of water being directed into the site’s pit. The cost of the changes is $39,670.

During commissioning of Units 3 and 4 after the major overhaul, it was also discovered the existing voltage regulator for unit 3 was not automatically matching the bus voltage when the unit was trying to synchronize to the grid. When the grid voltage is on the high end, the automatic voltage regulation can’t reach the level of the grid and the unit will eventually time out and shut down.

The proposed work includes equipment, labor to uninstall old equipment and install new equipment, documentation of changes, and integration into the system. The cost for the work is $95,000, and would be completed by Newkirk Electric.

The proposed changes would add $135,170 to the overall project. The costs are unbudgeted and would be covered within the capital improvement line item of the electric department’s hydro budget and offset with reductions to other projects.

The city commission also approved a change order to complete the installation of a new emergency backup generator for $37,591.

Installation of an emergency back-up generator and associated equipment at the public service utility building was approved by the commission at its meeting May 25, 2022. The project was planned for fiscal year 2022-2023. Staff was originally given a lead time of 42 weeks and sent a purchase order to Shouldice Electric in June 2022. However, due to continuing delays, that equipment has not yet been received but the project continues to move forward.

The new generator is being placed in the transformer storage yard 100 feet east of the public services and utilities building (PSUB). During project development, it was determined the automatic transfer switches should also be placed at that location.

The move was always part of a master plan, city officials said, as the existing building’s primary power feed was routed through a basement structure about 10 feet east of the transformer, into the transformer, then routed to the existing meter cabinet along the north side of the building. The plan allows for the transformer to be moved to that existing basement structure and the new transfer switch equipment to be placed on the old transformer pad. This also requires the meter to be placed at the new generator location ahead of all the new equipment.

The new estimated ship date of the generator is November 9. Currently, the feed running between the transformer and electric meter in their current locations was installed under the National Electric Safety Code (NESC) that the city’s line department or other electric supplier agencies use (distribution side of the meter). The existing feed was with one set of wires which meets the NESC standard.

In working on getting wiring ready for the new generator, it was determined that, due to the new location of the meter and generator, that three additional, secondary power feeds from the meter to the main distribution panel within the building would be necessary to meet current National Electric Code (NEC). The state electrical inspector will require the greater number of wires as called for under the NEC to supply the power from the meter to the existing main 1,200 amp main distribution panel.

Staff from Shouldice Electric are looking to change the wiring from copper to aluminum wire as a cost-saving measure, but the amount of cost savings is not yet known. The new automatic transfer switch circuits, given a new, close proximity to the generator, would result in a cost reduction of $5,800.

The generator project did not include a contingency budget, and will be covered within the capital improvements line items of the electric department and offset with reductions to other projects.

Commissioner Rick Bir led discussion, questioning the costs of the projects. On the dam, Bir said the project “has a possibility of becoming our money pit,” and that he felt it would have been “be cheaper to have torn down the dam.”

On the generator project, Bir called the costs and project changes “a waste of taxpayer money.”

“Why not spend $5,000 on a couple ‘Generacs’ instead?” Bid said.

Facilities director Daniel Root said the city is already committed to the current course of the project parameters.

“You should be committed for spending that much money on this,” Bir said, before casting the lone “no” vote on the motion.

Public comment

During public comment time, resident Greg Lomax expressed concerns about speed and traffic throughout town, citing numerous instances where drivers had little to no regard for speed limits or safety. Lomax also said it appears police are doing little to remedy those concerns through targeted or increased enforcement.

“I don’t know what it’s going to take, somebody getting killed, to get something done,” Lomax said.

Lomax’s concerns were noted and police officials would be involved in discussion about the matter, city officials said.

Dan Cherry is a freelance journalist for Watershed Voice.