Mount Dora’s New Water Utilities Dig In

From this spot, a drill will bore down 25 under the roadway and then 3,600 feet up to Lincoln Avenue—then pull 3 lines of pipe back

Public Works moves into high gear on a tight new schedule

With the Florida Department of Transportation (DOT) moving their construction schedule for the Wekiva Parkway up by a full year, Mount Dora’s Public Works department has begun relocating utilities in earnest.

Work began a few months ago with construction of the new driveway at Wastewater Plant 2. The driveway used to enter onto eastbound 46, but because of anticipated road widening there, the new driveway will lead from the south end of the plant to exit onto the northbound lane of 441 just south of the 46-441 intersection.

As part of that work, water utilities—separate pipe lengths for water, wastewater and reclaimed water—were relocated along the new road emptying out on to 441.

Right now that’s the most visible part of the four-year, $20 million city project. Look right as you approach the SR-46 exit heading north on 441 and you’ll see the rich brown color of sandy dirt.

Road construction of the new entrance to Wastewater Plant 2
Road construction of the new entrance to Wastewater Plant 2

Up next is the relocation of 3,600 feet of utilities that will stretch from their new juncture at Wastewater Plant 2, under SR-46 and up to 441 to Liberty. The new pipes will be located to the right (east side) of the extended shoulder of 441 once that highway is widened. The old pipe will be excavated out during road construction.

Although you can see some signs of that coming work in the form of stacked lengths of colored pipe along 441 north of 46 (again, right side), most of the actual pipe-laying will occur out of sight. What’s called a jack and bore process will create the underground nooks for the pipes, drilling down from a knoll just south of the 46 exit. Then all that pipe will be pulled back through the hole one the other end.

Most of the work is being done by day (they did have to work one night pulling bores under the Renniger’s driveway). There is no traffic impact because the city bought easements so they could work off the right-of-way.

Prep work is the most time-consuming part of the project. The actual laying of the three pipes should take no more than two days.

Once this is stage is finished (plans are to complete this December), the DOT in February 2017 will certify right-of-way, which will allow them to request and award bids for construction and roll out the big equipment to get started.

The DOT’s first construction work will be the flyover for the new 441-46 intersection. (This should significantly reduce the amount of traffic turning east on 46.) They’ll lay “MSE” walls with tie-backs going into the soil to hold the walls in place. There is one gap in the bridge (on the eastern 46 side of the intersection), and the utilities will run through that gap.

You can fused lengths of the pipe awaiting insertion on 441 just north of 46
You can fused lengths of the pipe awaiting insertion on 441 just north of 46

Two other projects in the overall utilities relocation plan start together this fall. A second leg going east from the 441-46 intersection for three miles out to Round Lake Road will be laid, tying in to a line now serving Sullivan Ranch. This will create  redundant reclaimed and potable water loop, keeping the line active while the Innovation District as it builds out. (Otherwise the city would have to flush the lines every few days.)

The third leg will run north along Britt Road through Wolf Branch Road up to SR-44. The thing with this leg, however, is that while utilities relocation is expected to loop from there down to 441, state funding for widening 44 hasn’t been approved yet. (State funding is also needed for the widening of 441 from Lincoln to Donnelly and that isn’t expected soon, so there isn’t even a plan yet for relocating those utilities.)

A final leg will head up from Round Lake Road to Wolf Branch and tie in at Britt Road. Although plans will be drawn and the easements purchase, work will probably wait until around 2019 when the development picture in that area becomes clearer.

Completion of utilities relocations will signal the green light for development. Public Works director John Peters expects it come pretty fast once their work’s done.

Lake County right now allows 1 unit of residential for 5 acres in the undeveloped areas around all this work. Once Mount Dora’s utility lines are there, the allowance will change to two residences per acre—ten times the development potential.

That’s a lot of money coming into Mount Dora’s tax base, but Peters worries about the reclaimed water needs of so many 20,000-square foot lots.

“That will make Thrill Hill (the planned reclaimed water reservoir) even more essential,” he says.

And—there’s always an and in city utilities projects—if Sorrento begins to develop toward the Innovation District from further east, the city may be looking to service that area as well with utilities … which probably will require another wastewater treatment plant.

While city utilities employees might sense Job security from all this work, it’s just a lot coming on really fast. “Normally projects of this scale complete over a 10-15 year period,” Peters said. “We have 3-4 years to get it done.”

Public Works line manager Josh Kramm
Public Works line manager Josh Kramm

Public Works line manager Josh Kramm drove us out to area for a closer look.

On the way over from the Public Works’ temporary office on Lake Center Drive (just off 19A en route to Eustis), Kramm talked about some of the difficulties municipal water utilities were experiencing around the state. In Fort Lauderdale and Charlotte County, aging pipes were causing frequent water main breaks.

“Utilities always are because they always go sight unseen,” Kramm said. “Until it goes horribly wrong, you don’t think about it. Until you turn your tap on and you don’t have it or there’s a huge puddle in your front yard.”

Costs for material are skyrocketing, making replacement an ever-increasing line item. A 3-1/2 foot fire hydrant which used to cost $720 now runs as high as $1,100.  With lead and copper regulations changing, the brass fittings now have to be lead-free.  A 1″ curb which used to cost $18 now runs around $35.

A lot of expensive utilities are going in on new east side of town, but that doesn’t address the ongoing needs of aging utilities infrastructure in “old” Mount Dora—streetscaping on Fifth Avenue and older neighborhoods around downtown which popped up organically over time. Lines have had to be adapted as more homes were built—2″ lines no longer sufficient. And there’s little diagramming of use to a line manager like Kramm. He says has just came to know it. “For someone less experienced, it would be a real puzzle,” he says.

We stopped first at Wastewater Plant Two where the driveway is being located and where the utilities line going north along 441 will start from.

“We’re going to have two entrance roads to the plant and four stormwater ponds,” Kramm says. “The road had been plowed and is now at grade” (awaiting surfacing). In February the road heading out to 46 will be severed. Massey Construction is doing the road construction work for the city; thanks to a sharing arrangement, the DOT will reimburse Mount once it’s done.

New pipe and old pipe near Wastewater Plant 2
New pipe and old pipe near Wastewater Plant 2

We drove up to the knoll overlooking that exit from northbound 441 onto 46. It’s one of the highest points in Mount Dora, and sure enough, we could smell the manure-seeming odor of mushrooms wafting up from farms in Zellwood.

It is here that the directional bores will drive down and begin their underground journey under SR-46 up to Liberty.

This is how it will work. A heavy piece of equipment called a Ditch Witch will drive a 3″ drill shaft 25 feet underground and then carve the 3,600-foot route. A paddle located close to the bit pushes polymer out to stabilize the ground as the bit travels along. Once the bit has been pushed through, a reamer is attached and pulled back, opening the hole wider. It makes another forward pass and then, on the final return run, a 18” back-reamer is then attached which has a swivel on which to bolt on the 16” pipeline, and the whole length is then pulled through the hole. Along the way the back-reamer puts out bedonite or “pull mud,” a polymer mixed in that keeps the hole open and reduces friction. The process is repeated three times for water, wastewater and stormwater pipe.

I asked Kramm if there are surprises.

“You run in to all kinds of things,” he says. “Old pipes, wires, septic tanks, drain fields, you name it, it comes up.” It’s tough on hardware and mechanical failures can slow things further down.  Still, it’s amazing that the whole process will be dug and pulled in a manner of hours.

DOT contractor Eric Large—a Mount Dora resident—fuses pipe
DOT contractor Eric Large—a Mount Dora resident—fuses pipe

Next we drove up 441 to watch pipes being fused. It’s a slow process, with each length of pipe carefully joined in the run. A 30′ length of 16″ pipe is maneuvered up to the fusing unit on a backhoe (each weighs close to 400 pounds). Once that pipe is lined up with the run, their ends are machined to plumb the connecting surface. Then a heating plate is applied to melt the ends, and then hydraulic pressure fuses them together. Specs from each fusing operation—time and temperature of the unit—are entered into a log. That information is kept in a database in case of future problems with the line.

So far, just the length of water pipe was finished and ready—two more similar lengths for wastewater and reclaimed water still needed to be fused together.  Kramm estimates the will take another month to complete.

It won’t be long after that the 46-Round Lake and Britt Road extensions will start in earnest.

It’s going to be a very busy few years for Public Works. There isn’t anything that the department has undertaken that compares in size to this project, except maybe the 441 widening project years ago (when it was widened from Donnelly all the way up to Leesburg).

“It can be overwhelming to the new guys, undertaking a job of this size,” Kramm says. “You have to rope them all in—contractors and employees alike. It’s all about good communication, having that bond and that trust.

“And then on top of all this you have your normal everyday work.”

We drive back to the department’s office way on the other side of town. (The Public Works facility is old and moldy, so personnel are located in temporary quarters all over the city. Having them so spread out is a logistical headache, Kramm says. A new Public Works facility that will also house the Purchasing department—estimated to cost $2 million–is on the capital budget wish-list.)

By now it was noon and blazing hot. It takes a special constitution to work day in and out in Florida’s relentless weather. The elements never let up—but the work has to get done. Mount Dora is growing east and fast.

(Note: Back in March we rode along with Pubic Works director John Peters to through all the areas where utilities are extending. Link here to get a look at all the affected areas.)

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David Cohea, Writer (