After an 8-week delay, crews with Kerns Excavating, Bicknell, are expected to mobilize today and begin the city’s long-awaited and final levee update in order to see the earthen structure remain in good standing with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Kirk Bouchie, general manager of Vincennes Water Utilities on Wednesday said to members of the Utilities Service Board that it was “disappointing” they hadn’t gotten further on the project to replace some 50-year-old seepage relief wells along the Wabash River Levee near Vincennes University, but it was through no fault of Kerns — or really anyone’s, for that matter.

“There’s just been a lot of coordination necessary between CSX Railroad and Wabash Steel,” Bouchie explained. “I describe it all the time as threading a needle.

“It’s just been a difficult area (in which) to coordinate a project like this,” he told the board.

The USB in July awarded the $1.3 million contract to Kerns.

But the project, one more than a year in the making, requires coordination between the contractor, CSX Railroad and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, among others; it’s been the coordination between CSX Railroad and Wabash Steel that has proven the most difficult to navigate.

As part of a recent deal struck with the two, Wabash Steel will receive no more shipments via rail line between now and Jan. 1, 2021.

“We need that time to work on that northern-most section of this project,” Bouchie told the board. “That’s a critical path right through there, and we work close to the rails. So those tracks will need to be locked — not used by anybody.

“We can’t work within 25 feet of those tracks when they’re in service even though they only serve that one customer (Wabash Steel).”

But with that deal now in place, Kerns can finally move forward, Bouchie said.

“And our current schedule still allows us to be complete — at least with the portion that is so critically important, the part that allows for a positive evaluation from the corps of engineering to FEMA, by the end of the year.

“We feel good that we can get that done even with an 8-week delay.”

The replacement of the seepage relief wells is the last major project required before the levee will finally be re-certified by FEMA and added to the existing flood maps, bringing an end to a years-long, now $9 million effort.

The project is being paid for by a handful of local entities, specifically VU, the utility itself, Knox County Development Corp. and the Vincennes Redevelopment Commission.

The current relief wells were installed in the 1950s, and are long past their lifespan. The wells essentially allow groundwater from the levee to be captured and drained back into the river, all in an effort to be sure the levee remains stable.

Bouchie also told the board that, so far, more than $560,000 has been spent on this project, “and that’s without one piece of pipe in the ground yet.”

“So that tells you just how much of a needle we’re threading here,” he said.

Bouchie also told the board Wednesday that the utility is doing “so far so good” in terms of COVID-19.

The utility reopened its main office on Busseron Street to the public earlier this summer and they’ve been “very careful” in their interactions with customers since.

“Just like we’re sitting here in this room with masks on and spread out as much as we can,” he said of the board, which met at the new drinking water facility on River Road.

Bouchie said “to his knowledge” no utility employee has either tested positive for the virus or become ill, but they have had some placed in quarantine due to possible exposure.

He said they are being “very generous” in allowing people to stay home until they’ve been cleared to return.

“And we’ve never had a huge bunch at once,” he said. “We’ve just worked through it.”

Bouchie also said he has submitted to city officials purchases in excess of $41,000 — for things like Personal Protective Equipment and the addition of an air-conditioning unit in a large meeting space at the drinking water plant where group meetings can be held during the pandemic — for reimbursement by the city’s portion of federal CARES Act funds.

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