Public meeting reviews the project’s first four months

Water district Director Nai Hsueh speaks to residents about the project.
Water district Director Nai Hsueh speaks to residents about the project.

In its first update to the community since construction at the Rinconada plant began four months ago, the water district highlighted its efforts to control truck traffic and dust in the neighborhood during the recent heavy construction of the Reliability Improvement Project.

“(The neighborhood) may have seen the worst of it,” the project’s manager Mike Munson said at the Dec. 9 meeting with about a dozen residents at Rolling Hills Middle School. “Over the next five years, there will be other peaks of activity, but most likely nothing like what occurred in August and September.”

Through the last four months, Balfour Beatty, the district’s contractor, has hauled away from the plant more than 15,000 cubic-yards of soil. That meant a lot of trucks along More Avenue, as many as 100 in one day, on a route agreed upon by the district and the town of Los Gatos. That work, which created a place to build the foundation for future structures, is now complete. Traffic has dwindled to a level more in line to what will remain for the majority of the project.

Restrictions paying off

The water district has put extensive restrictions on its contractors in order to reduce the impact of work on the neighborhood.

Related to the actual work, contractors can only work weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The only exception was a week-long planned plant shutdown in mid-December. To minimize noise, they’ve used electric rather than pneumatic equipment, relied on quiet generators and banned the revving of vehicle engines.

Truck restrictions are even tighter. Balfour Beatty requires its drivers to, among many things, not queue up vehicles in the neighborhood, keep to haul routes and not park personal vehicles, equipment or stockpile outside of the treatment plant.

“We paid a lot more for these restrictions,” said Munson. “Without them, the contractor could be more efficient and get more work done every day. But we wanted to minimize the impact on this neighborhood and especially (Rolling Hills Middle) school.”

In consideration for the school and the students’ safety, the district has worked with the school to develop restricted hours for hauling and non-hauling vehicles when school is in session.

Despite some concern raised by residents at the meeting about the traffic, the water district believes the rules have largely reduced the impact to the neighborhood, though the record isn’t perfect.

As of Dec. 9, Munson said the district has levied fines totaling $3,500 for seven infractions committed by sub-contractors. Violations included not complying with the restricted hours around Rolling Hills Middle School.

The fines go toward reducing the cost of the construction contract funded by ratepayers, in essence, returning the money to the community. Responding to whether the neighborhood could directly benefit from those fines, water district Director Nai Hsueh said the agency’s legal staff would review the inquiry to determine if such a move is appropriate.

Munson said the prospect of fines give the restrictions “teeth” and drivers an incentive to keep within the guidelines or face being removed from the project.

“Balfour Beatty has been very determined and assertive about weeding out subcontractors and trucking companies that don’t follow the restrictions,” he said.

Competing projects led to more traffic

Still, an ongoing concern for residents is the heavy number of trucks along the route. But Munson pointed out construction for the Reliability Project isn’t the only work that has generated traffic these last few months.

The San Jose Water Company is in the midst of a main replacement on More Avenue. The La Rinconada Country Club is doing extensive excavation maintenance near Wedgewood Avenue. Trucks on that project don’t have the same work restrictions as those at Rinconada.

Two water district projects currently taking place at the plant have similar restrictions to the Reliability Project and will be completed by early summer 2016. Munson noted the city of Saratoga’s Quito Road Bridges Replacement Project, slated to begin in summer 2016, will likely impact the neighborhood.

Dust control efforts

Even though the Bay Area Air Quality Management District reviewed the project and issued permits for truck usage, the district still implemented a dust control plan that calls for street sweeping at least twice a day on More Avenue from the water treatment plant to Pollard Road, Capistrano Place, Granada Way and the smaller neighboring roads; Spraying of the construction site with recycled water to settle dust; Cleaning of trucks and their wheels before they leave the plant; And the use of tarps to cover the loads.

What’s next

The district is now into the second phase of its five-part plan for Rinconada. The end of that phase will see about 30 to 40 percent of the project completed. This winter, the focus is on building the flocculation, sedimentation and wash water recovery basins, ozone contractor structure and large diameter pipelines. Another plant shutdown takes place Jan. 11 through Jan. 19.

“Behind the facade of our plant, there is a lot of activity going on and we are making a lot of progress,” Munson said. “We will build this project and we will be done someday.”

– By Tony Mercado, SCVWD Neighborhood Liaison

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