July 18 will be a big day for Calexico when bidding closes for the first phase of construction on the long-awaited New River Parkway Project and later that evening when the city stages a forum on cleanup efforts along the filthy waterway.
The bidding period for construction of phase one opened in June and will close at 2 p.m. July 18. A summary of the bids is expected to be presented to the city council at its meeting Sept. 4, with the awarding of a bid possible that evening.
City officials said they hope construction on the first phase will finish by summer 2020, said Miguel Figueroa, assistant city manager.
The community forum will start at 6 p.m. July 18 in the Calexico Woman’s Improvement Club, 320 Heber Ave., Figueroa added. It will feature a status report on New River mitigation.
The river, often cited as the most polluted in North America, originates in Mexico, accumulates myriad pollutants, including raw sewage, and crosses the international border in Calexico. It snakes its way through Imperial County and empties into the Salton Sea north of Brawley.
The nearing of construction is a positive development, said Calexico Mayor Bill Hodge.
“It’s been many years since the New River has been an area of focus. We always seemed to be taking one step forward and two steps back. But in the last three or four years, we’ve accelerated the pace, overcoming hurdles and obstacles,” Hodge said on July 8. “We could always do more, compared to the way it used to be, but it’s a lot better and we are making progress on it.”
Fixing the problems at the New River is “becoming more and more of a reality,” Hodge added.
Phase one calls for the construction of the first three-quarters of a mile of bicycle pathway/pedestrian walkway and other amenities along a portion of the New River. Those amenities include a bicycle trail, landscaping and electrical work, site preparation, erosion control measures and stormwater/water quality improvements, according to the bid advertisement posted on the city’s website.
The construction of the entire New River improvement project will be done in phases, with phase one to start first because the city has the $2 million in funding.
Additionally, the work can begin prior to a planned $20 million casing of the river, and installation of a water treatment pump-back system and trash screen. Those will be part another phase once complete funding is secured, Figueroa said in a phone interview July 8.
The project has a lengthy and convoluted history, much of it linked to funding challenges.
Overall, the planning and design of the 1.5-mile parkway project has been completed and was approved by the California Department of Transportation and the California Natural Resources Agency in April 2017.
The design portion cost the city $2 million and it has $2 million left for phase one construction, Figueroa said. Portions of the funding have been in place for years, unlocked only recently by obtaining matching funds, Figueroa indicated, and completing design, planning and environmental processes.
Then-U.S. Rep. Bob Filner helped appropriate $3.2 million from Caltrans in the early 2000s, but it required a 20-percent city match, which Figueroa said was $800,000. When Assembly Bill 1079 was adopted in 2009, it provided that $800,000 in matching fees for the city from the state Natural Resources Agency, thereby granting access to the remaining $3.2 million from Caltrans.
Meanwhile, Calexico has gone on to work other phases of the project. They include:
Getting the design and planning approved at the state level for the encasement of the river from the border to the All-American Canal outfall.
The design of a tertiary water treatment process that will pump back about five million gallons of treated water a day from the city sewer plant to near the origin of the river so “clean” water can flow north.
A trash-screen system where the river enters from the border that will collect an estimated ton of trash per day.
These portions of the improvement project will cost in the tens of millions, Figueroa said. About $10 million has already been set aside from the state 2018 Parks and Water Bond Act (Proposition 68), but he said the city needs to identify a source of funding for an additional $15-$20 million.
The city last year entered into a memorandum of understanding with Imperial County and the Imperial Irrigation District whereby each body has pledged to contribute $50,000 annually for the operations and maintenance of the pump-back system, trash screen and river encasement.
The city is completing the state approval process for that portion of the project with completion of that expected early in 2020, Figueroa added.