Heavy lifting on two of the biggest public projects in Butte’s history is about to begin.
Construction on $30 million in new buildings and filtration systems and other upgrades at the wastewater treatment plant should start this week.
And dirt work for the new $36 million water treatment plant slated at Basin Creek could start this fall, with a bid for the major construction work going out in February or March and work starting soon after that.
The only public works projects that might rival them in scope and dollar terms here are the Butte-Silver Bow Courthouse completed in 1912 and the Butte Civic Center finished in 1952, county officials say.
Even those don’t come close.
The Courthouse was financed with public bonds for $482,600 a century ago, which is about $11.6 million in current dollars. The Civic Center cost $995,000 in its day, or $9.9 million today.
“You don’t get an opportunity to get one of these projects going very often, but to have two of them going concurrently in addition to what’s going on with the NorthWestern Energy building – that is terrific,” said Chief Executive Matt Vincent.
Both will bring lots of construction workers to town who will spend plenty of money in Butte over the next two years. Vincent figures the spinoff will be at least as much as the combined $66 million project costs.
But there’s another big payoff, one hard to measure in dollars and cents.
The new plant at Basin Creek should shore up the supply of safe drinking water to Butte for decades. The metro sewer upgrades should dramatically reduce nitrates released into Silver Bow Creek, boosting oxygen levels and hopefully aquatic life in the headwaters of the Clark Fork and Columbia River systems.
Those not impressed or indifferent are winners too. They can keep drinking and watering and showering and flushing with Butte water without a thought.
“We find it interesting,” said Public Works Director Dave Schultz. “If your power goes out you say, ‘The power is out, I hope it comes back on soon.’ But if your sewer backs up or you turn the tap and it doesn’t work, people get upset.
“How often do you turn your tap and the water doesn’t come out? It just never happens,” he said. “Water and wastewater are two utilities that have to work. They’ve just got to work.”