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For the week of Nov. 17, 1999 through Nov. 23, 1999

St. Luke’s challenge: boring under the Big Wood River

Officials say they will be "impressed and amazed" if the "cowboy type endeavor" succeeds

Express Staff Writer

Contractors are gearing up to bore sewer and water lines underneath the Big Wood River for the new St. Luke’s Hospital, an endeavor some call "extreme," due to its physical difficulty, high cost and tight schedule, to name a few obstacles.

Although the county permit process for the boring is not yet completed, contractors say they will attempt to bore first, then trench if boring fails.

County Engineer Jim Koonce has said he will be "impressed and amazed" if the boring works, and that he would "hate to foot the bill" for the project.

Koonce—in a memo to county planning and zoning and in an interview—said he believes a more traditional and cheaper trenching method is a better alternative.

During an interview Monday, Sun Valley Sewer and Water District operations manager Pat McMahon called the project a "cowboy type endeavor," apparently referring to the cocksure nature of boring contractors.

For construction of St. Luke’s to continue this winter, contractors must install the lines to meet fire department water-flow regulations.

Despite widespread skepticism, Allen Puckett, foreman for Pipeline Contractors West, the company that will likely perform the bore, is confident he will succeed.

"We’ve never had a bore fail," he said of the dozens of similar projects his company has completed.

He said he is "99.5 percent sure" he can bore in this case also.

Two of the biggest concerns with the St. Luke’s boring seem to be the large number and size of cobbles, or rocks, that exist in the area and the project’s cost.

Puckett said his company uses two kinds of machinery to handle the cobbles.

The primary machine is a hydraulically driven auger guided inside a steel-reinforced casing. Puckett said the casing can be driven with enough force to sheer off pieces of large cobbles.

For cobbles that are too large for the auger, Puckett said he uses a pneumatic hammer to pound the cobbles out of the way.

Puckett expects that with the two 30-inch-diameter bores he expects to perform, he won’t run into any cobbles larger than 34 inches across, about the largest cobble his equipment can handle.

But, he admits, he won’t know for sure until the work is done.

"It’s a risky business," he said.

Puckett’s company charges between $500 and $700 a linear foot for the kind of work St. Luke’s is asking for, a rate that would total $150,000 to $210,000 for the hospital.

St. Luke’s vice president of corporate development and spokesman, Bill Bodnar, said an estimated cost of trenching is not available.

Despite the nearly dozen open-cut crossings of the Big Wood River that have been performed in the past in Blaine County, sewer district operations manager McMahon said the public is reacting to this project because of its high visibility.

The high profile of the area, located adjacent to Highway 75, is "one of [the hospital’s] biggest problems," he said.

Indeed, on Monday, the Blaine County Commissioners unanimously approved a stream alteration permit for a different project involving an open-cut trench across the river in a secluded area northwest of Bellevue. That project received public comment from only a handful of city officials, and is scheduled to begin immediately. (See story on page A17.)

Puckett said boring offers an advantage over trenching in high-profile areas because it doesn’t degrade the shoreline, or effect the river water.

Also, he said, boring is safer than trenching for the workers involved, and boring equipment is better suited than trenching equipment for the tight space between the bike path and the highway at the location.

Contractors have already installed most of the 6,900 feet of 6-inch plastic sewer pipe and 12-inch iron water pipe needed to bring services to the hospital, McMahon said.

Sewer service will be provided by the Sun Valley Wastewater Treatment Plant located west of the highway, north of Elkhorn Road.

Water will be provided by the one of four Sun Valley Water and Sewer District wells located about one-quarter mile south of the sewer treatment plant.

One of the last major obstacles to providing service to the hospital is laying the water and sewer lines across the river—but nobody knows for sure when the work will begin.

"That’s the $1,000 question right now," Puckett said.


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