Water & Drought

Bids for Oroville Dam repairs top state estimates; $275.4 million the lowest

Whitewater flows as damaged Oroville Dam spillway is reopened

After being closed to allow for assessment, repairs and dredging o the Feather River below, the Oroville Dam main spillway again is funneling water from fast-filling Lake Oroville. Releases roared down the still-compromised concrete chute on Frida
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After being closed to allow for assessment, repairs and dredging o the Feather River below, the Oroville Dam main spillway again is funneling water from fast-filling Lake Oroville. Releases roared down the still-compromised concrete chute on Frida

Blowing past state officials’ financial projections, three construction contractors submitted bids for the Oroville Dam repairs that begin at $275 million, the Department of Water Resources said Saturday.

DWR, in a brief announcement, said its engineers had estimated the repairs to the two damaged spillways would come in at $220 million.

The low bid was $275.4 million from a subsidiary of Kiewit Corp. of Omaha, Neb.; followed by an affiliate of Barnard Construction Co. of Bozeman, Mont., at $277 million. The high bid was made by Oroville Dam Constructors, a joint venture between Sacramento’s Teichert Construction and Granite Construction of Watsonville, at $344.1 million.

Although the low bid exceeded DWR’s estimates, state officials said they were pleased with the pricing. “The bids were very reasonable, and very close to one another,” said spokeswoman Erin Mellon of DWR’s parent agency, the Natural Resources Agency.

DWR said it would spend the weekend reviewing the bids and declare a winner Monday. The work itself isn’t likely to start until late May or early June; DWR has just resumed operating the battered main spillway in order to reduce the water level at Lake Oroville in anticipation of a heavy spring runoff from the Sierra Nevada.

The low bid doesn’t automatically secure state contracts, although price typically accounts for at least 50 percent of the scoring system the state uses to evaluate bids, said Brian Ferguson, a spokesman for the Department of General Services. Other criteria include the bidders’ responsiveness to the state’s goals for the project.

The winning bidder will undertake one of the most vexing construction projects the state has seen in years: repairing two structures whose problems triggered a near catastrophe Feb. 12, when engineers feared the emergency spillway would fail and a “wall of water” would overwhelm the Feather River. Officials ordered the temporary evacuation of 188,000 downstream residents.

The repair job is so massive that DWR officials have acknowledged it will take two years. They expect to have the two spillways operational in time for the next rainy season, however.

The plan calls for filling in the giant craters in the main spillway, which fractured Feb. 7, with fast-drying concrete but leaving the massive chasm in the adjoining hillside untouched. The chasm could be used for handling excessive outflows of water during the next rainy season, but would be filled in during summer 2018.

The contractor would also partially line the nearby emergency spillway with concrete; the structure currently consists of a concrete lip perched atop an unlined hillside.

The winning contractor faces the added complexity of working on a project whose exact scope is still being defined. Acting DWR Director Bill Croyle said a week ago the design work was still only 60 percent done.

Still unclear is who will pay for the repairs. The state owns Oroville Dam but it’s operated in large part as a storage facility for State Water Project contractors. Generally those contractors, which include the massive Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, pay for upkeep of SWP facilities, and Mellon said it’s expected that the repair budget “would come from State Water Project funds.”

Also unknown is whether the federal government would contribute to the repairs. The Trump administration has approved $274 million in recovery aid for Oroville, but that money is expected to cover preliminary repair and other costs relating to the Oroville crisis, and is expected to run out in May.

Mellon said the state plans to ask the Trump administration for additional money via the Federal Emergency Management Agency “because it’s an emergency.”

Dale Kasler: 916-321-1066, @dakasler

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