Idaho Falls officials answered public questions about the research and preparation that was going into the new site of the city’s water tower Wednesday night.
The public hearing was meant to help the city choose between three potential sites for where the new tower would go, along with other questions about the design and construction process coming down the pipe. Officials expect to make a final decision on the location sometime in April and hopefully begin construction of the new tower in the summer of 2022.
The majority of the crowd Wednesday accepted that the city’s well-known red, white and blue water tower had outlived its use after 83 years. The new tower would have double the storage capacity with 1 million gallons and would get rid of current concerns about lead paint and seismic safety.
“When that tower was built back in 1937, it was near the center of the city. Idaho Falls has expanded a lot since then but that well remains the center of the city,” Public Works Director Chris Fredericksen said.
The new water tower is estimated to cost $6.3 million to build, paid for by city utility fees accumulated since the initial 2015 water facility report that called for the tower to be improved. Renovating the current tower would cost closer to $2.5 million, but Water Superintendent David Richards said that wouldn’t bring the tower up to code for earthquakes and that the new tower would be cheaper in the long run.
The final three sites for the new water tower are all located on city-owned near the current tower. One is along the River Walk south of the Art Museum of Eastern Idaho; one is in the parking lot behind Dave’s Bike Shop and Chesbro Music and one is a parking lot off of Cliff Street next to the Willowtree Gallery.
David Morgan lives near the section of the Greenbelt slated as a potential spot for the water tower. He was concerned about the impact that having the tower built there could have on the people who visit the green sections of the River Walk.
He also questioned whether these public hearings were the best way for the city to make a decision about a key piece of engineering like this.
“This city has about 54,000 people in it. There are maybe 40 of us who are in this room tonight. Is the decision really going to be based on us instead of an engineering report?” Morgan asked.
Fredericksen and Richards had attended public meetings for other groups in the previous weeks — Idaho Falls Rotary Club, Downtown Development Corporation, Chamber of Commerce. A corner of the room Wednesday night was made up of Cliff Street business owners who said they hadn’t been contacted by the city for any of the previous meetings, including the owner of Willowtree Gallery.
Janet Orchard, co-owner of Orchard’s Naturopathic Center on Cliff Street, guessed that she wasn’t contacted because the center wasn’t classified as a downtown company but wanted to make sure the city knew her opposition to having the tower in her parking lot.
“We have 20 people a day parking there to see us and there are other businesses around. That is a lot of people who would be losing space,” Orchard said.
Idaho Falls will continue to accept public comment on the three locations at firstname.lastname@example.org until March 2. Video of the city’s presentation from the public hearing is available through the city’s website.