Infrastructure project breaking ground soon

The Falls City Electrical Distribution System Improvement project will begin in early April 2024, and the goal is to finish the much-needed project by December of the same year.

An open house meeting was held at the Southeast Community College Learning Center in Falls City on Tuesday, March 26. Employees from the City of Falls City, Watts Electric, JEO Consulting and Olsson, Inc. were on hand to answer questions and provide updates on the electrical construction through Downtown Falls City.

The Phase 1 Project Location will be between Chase Street and Harlan and from 11th to 20th Street. The initial work will originate at the new Power Distribution Center at the Power Plant and work up 11th Street from Crook to the east alley of Stone Street. From there, workers will move north from Stone Street east alley to 18th Street and Stone Street alley. The final phase will include work from 11th Street from Stone Street west alley to 20th Street and Stone Street west alley.

Work will be paused during Lemonade Days on July 12-13 and for Cobblestone from August 22-25.

Two different electrical projects are currently in the works. One concerns the local distribution system, while the other concerns how we get the power to our distribution system (transmission). The $15 million grant will help with how we get power to Falls City. The current project will entail upgrading the electrical distribution system to supply reliable, resilient, and redundant service throughout the City.

“Our current distribution system is a little antiquated,” said EDGE Director Lucas Froeschl. “That is the current downtown project.”

The project is scheduled to take roughly 14 days per block to complete, but delays are not out of the question.

The cables will be run and the new infrastructure will be put in the ground before demolishing the old system.

The project will begin on April 8, when the 15 kV PDC (Power Distribution Center) is delivered. The PDC is a 40-ton building that will house the breakers needed to run the new lines that will be installed. The Power Plant will connect to the PDC, which will run the switches for the new lines.

Falls City applied for a BRIC (Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities) Grant in 2022 but was unsuccessful in securing the money. Roughly $5.1 million of the project will be funded through a Combined Utility Revenue Bond and a Municipal Improvement Bond. The reserves of the Electrical Fund will finance the remainder of the cost. The debt will be repaid through a ½ cent sales tax that has been enacted. The project’s total cost is estimated to be nearly $5.9 million.

“We implemented the ½ cent sales tax ordinance to take that to two percent,” said City Administrator Anthony Nussbaum. “That money goes into our Capital Improvement Fund and that was slated by that committee for debt services on this project.”

According to Froeschl, the $15 million project will need to be matched.

“Still in negotiations with providers on who covers the other side of the match,” said Froeschl. “We’re still trying to look for the best deal for Falls City, with the least impact to ratepayers.”

According to Froeschl and Nussbaum, nothing has been signed; the project is just in the conceptual stages.

Falls City currently has a 10-acre, a 3-acre, and a 4-acre spot available in the industrial park that are saved and designed for job-creating investments. However, with the current power situation, it would be tough to recruit a business due to the lack of power available.

“Our population has decreased for decades, but our consumption of electricity has gone up,” said Froeschl. “Obviously, we’re trying to stop the trend of the population decreasing, but inevitably, consumption of electrical usage will continue to go up.”

Froeschl noted that Falls City was one of 30 areas approved for a Department of Energy Local Energy Action Grant. The $50,000 technical assistance grant will be used to look at fixing the energy problem.

“It’s grant money from the Federal Government because they recognize that we are burdened,” said Froeschl.

Froeschl stated that if the City can get engineering from this grant for a battery/solar concept, then the City can use that documentation to go after another Federal Grant to implement the findings.

“Then you’re talking about, basically, free electricity from the sun, stored in batteries for when we need it, to offset the ratepayers’ rates,” said Froeschl.

EDGE has also applied for a USDA Rural Business Development Grant to do a study on corn stover in the area.

“There’s these emerging technologies in corn stover that’s a feed stock for clean fuels, biodiesel, sustainable aviation fuel,” said Froeschl. “If we’re awarded the USDA Grant, that could get us a $70 to $90k study to show that, what is the value of corn stover in the area, which I expect to be high. Then we can use that as a sales tool to recruit some of these ag companies that are investing in some of the technologies for corn stover usage.”

Watts Electric, the contractor for the Electrical Distribution System Improvement project, will contact businesses ahead of work, coordinate business needs, and plan disconnects.

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