Bellingham awards $11.4M bid for new drinking water treatment system

Touring the Bellingham water treatment plant

Chief operator Bill Evans gives a quick tour of the Bellingham water treatment plant, Monday, April 4, 2016.
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Chief operator Bill Evans gives a quick tour of the Bellingham water treatment plant, Monday, April 4, 2016.

Work on a new drinking water treatment system could start this fall after City Council on Monday, Aug. 29, awarded a $11.4 million bid for its construction.

The contract was awarded to Stellar J Corporation of Woodland despite a bid protest from Hillco Contracting of Bellingham.

Hillco president Scott Hillius said in a letter to the city that Stellar J solicited a bid from Hillco as a subcontractor for HVAC and plumbing work, but then listed itself as doing that work on its final bid. City staff said Stellar J is allowed to list itself as doing that work.

City staff said state law does not allow Hillco to protest the bid, since it was a subcontractor, not a prime contractor.

Staff also did not find substantiation for other concerns Hillius raised.

City Council members rejected the bid protest Monday night and gave staff permission to give the contract to Stellar J.

The city will start processing the contract on Friday, Sept. 2, and work is expected to start around the beginning of October, said Public Works Director Ted Carlson.

Once built, the new facility at the city’s water treatment plant in Whatcom Falls Park will use millions of tiny air bubbles to float debris to the top of incoming water so as much material as possible can be skimmed off before the water enters the existing filtration system.

Bellingham will be the first city in Washington state to install the pretreatment, known as dissolved air flotation, for drinking water.

The process is typically installed at wastewater treatment plants to float a very different type of debris out of water not intended for drinking.

Because the system will pull out more debris and organic materials like algae and plants, less chlorine may be needed to sanitize the water.

The construction and installation is expected to last more than a year, with the system ready for use in 2018.

Samantha Wohlfeil: 360-715-2274, @SAWohlfeil