City exploring options on water tanks

ALPENA – The City of Alpena has two clear well water tanks at the water plant. The tanks, which were built in 1922 and 1935, hold a half million gallons of drinking water. Due to the age of the tanks, the city has been forced to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars to seal cracks in the concrete in the tank that were allowing the water to seep out of the storage tank.

The initial effort to seal the tank installed in 1922 was only partially successful. Water from the second tank was being leaked out and forced its way into the ground and ultimately the first tank through the cracks. The wet conditions made it impossible for the sealant to do its job, forcing more work to be done.

City Engineer Rich Sullenger said the original cost to have one tank sealed was $225,000, plus an additional $40,000 to have vents fabricated and installed. On Monday he requested an additional $154,000 to have the 1935 tank fixed and then move back and make another attempt to fill the cracks in the first set of tanks.

Sullenger said the city has known that work was needed on the tanks and it would be costly. He said once completed the seal should last about 20 years, but eventually both tanks will need to be replaced.

The cost to replace both tanks could be as much as $2 million and take as long as three years to have built, get permits and be installed. Sullenger said the city doesn’t have the money to replace the tanks without issuing bonds and if it were to do that water rates would have to be increased even more than what currently is being considered.

“We recognize we are going to have build something that can store one million gallons of storage, but right now the water fund is not in a situation right now where we can under take that,” Sullenger said. “We would have to bond for that and if we were to take on the payments the water rates would have to be raised for the repayment. We proposed a rate increase already, but that did not include this. That is why we are trying to maintain them the best we can. That is why we are trying to push replacing them back until the water fund can come back a bit.”

Sullenger said he is confident that when the cracks in the 1935 tanks are sealed and water stops leaking from it, the 1922 tanks will remain dry enough to have the work completed as originally planned. He said he hopes one storage tank will be able to be left full throughout the work, but if emptying both must take place, measures are in place to store drinking water.

“We have a contingency plan. In the cost there is money which would allow us to rent a portable tank,” Sullenger said. “We could plumb it into the system and use it as a clear well if we needed. We prefer not to do that, but I’m confident we will be able to do the work without having to use a substitute tank.”

Because of the high demand for water during the summer months, Sullenger said he is going to wait until after the Labor Day holiday to have work on the tanks begin. He said once the work starts he believes it will take six to eight weeks for it to be complete.

Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews. Read his blog, Upon Further Review … at